Sawbones: Cataracts


This week on Sawbones, Dr. Sydnee and Justin squirting breastmilk in your eye while they attempt to cure your cataracts.

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Music: "Medicines" by The Taxpayers


Mao and "Traditional Chinese Medicine"

To expand a little on the comment about Mao and TCM, the history of which is pretty interesting, it is absolutely correct that Mao did not believe TCM actually worked. Mao wrote that "old doctors, circus entertainers, snake oil salesmen, and street hawkers are all of the same sort" (this appears in the Little Red Book). During the Communist Revolution and the subsequent Cultural Revolution, there was a severe lack of doctors, especially primary care doctors, with training in western medicine - a lack most pronounced in rural areas. Mao decided that the standardization of TCM (in an attempt to make TCM appear more scientifically valid, in part by getting rid of aspects like astrology and demonology) and the creation of formal institutions to teach TCM were necessary to deal with this shortage of doctors. As well as, of course, for many political and propaganda reasons (such as being less reliant on the Soviet Union for medical training and equipment). The State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine was established in 1954, and any practitioners of TCM who were independent of the SATCM were persecuted by the Red Guards. The Barefoot Doctors integrated basic western medicine (mainly preventative, along with treatment of minor injuries and illnesses) with the new standardized TCM. See Mao's "Instructions Concerning Health Work/Directive on Health Work" (there are various translations) from June 26, 1965.


I drive a truck from Salt Lake City, UT to Boise ID and back three days a week. I listen to A LOT of podcasts, of which Sawbones is one of the most anticipated (and favorites!). One night last week - completely unintended - I listened to first: a more-than-hour-long review of the movie"The Human Centipede", second: a not-quite-hour-long discussion of the films of David Cronenberg, and then capped it off with, third: "Cataracts."

I think I sprained my sphincter. (Is that possible, Sydnee?).

Keep the laughs coming!

Joe in Tooele ("Two Ella") Utah.

Early Surger

I think you are portraying the early surgical techniques too negativly. In early modern Europe it was done by travelling Surgeons, but often they were very skilled and had successes. Usually, those people weren't quack doctors - because they weren't allowed to sell medicine at all. They were considered as craftsmen. And the choice was either staying blind or having a bit of vision back. So not only labourers would take the risk - nearly everyone did.
I once read a book on Eisenbarth, a very famous travelling surgeon in Germany. The kind of operations he did are hard to imagine - and still many people survived without infection. I can only think that people like him had some trick for makeshift desifection they did just not care to write down. One should also consider that he, as many other surgeons did, stayed in town to care for his patients for some days.

And you made a very common mistake: Mao did not like traditional Chinese medicine, only some techniques were included in the Barefoot Doctor's Handbook - and they were described as last resort, if all else failed and if you didn't have access to anything at all.