A place for the sick


From bloodletting to super hospitals

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The health system we know today has its roots in the 19th century, in an age when the institutions for the sick became institutions of treatment. The sick were hospitalised and treated by doctors and nurses with the expectation that they could be healed. Hospitals are not an old institution in a historical perspective. It is the replacement for the institutions of the sick - the place where the afflicted and the poor who could not fend for themselves, got to stay but no treatment.

Archaeological studies of ancient skeletons help to shed light on the illnesses our distant ancestors suffered from. Osteoarthritis and tuberculosis were common ailments, while syphilis and leprosy are not seen until the Middle Ages. Studies also document that there were people with knowledge of healing in ancient times. Excavations have uncovered instruments for bloodletting and surgical tools that were well suited to deal with minor accidents: scalpels, tweezers, needles and equipment for closing wounds. Trepanation, a surgical procedure for opening the skull, is also known to have been performed.

Bloodletting is general practice

The first written evidence of bloodletting in Denmark is known from a book written by Roskilde Canon Henrik Harpestreng (?-1244). Bloodletting was very popular and the belief that it worked remained until the late 19th century. We know from Hans Christian Andersen's journals that he had been bled several times during his…

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