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Here In Africa: Not A Pain In The Neck, But In The Legs

...In conclusion, whether you enjoy the many benefits of the advances in medical science and modern inventions, or are one of those stout souls determined to ‘tough it out’ to the last; in today’s world you have the greatest freedom of choice in medical care and medication in the history of mankind...

Barbara Durlacher, outlining the physcal problems suffered by monarchs down the centuries, emphasises that we have never had it so good when it comes to medical care.

Much as we would prefer not to discuss the subject, there are some things which life forces us to accept. Foremost amongst these are the sad loss of those nearest and dearest to us and then, of lesser importance, but with perhaps more day-to-day impact, the increasing realisation that try as we might, aches and pains have become part of our lives. Fortunately, with the enormous advances in medical science in the past fifty years, many of these problems can be treated or alleviated, and millions of people are now living longer and carrying on active and productive lives into their late 70s or even 80s.

Now with the aid of newly discovered treatments, and the help of skilled doctors and surgeons, injuries and diseases that half a century ago were viewed with a kind of horror bordering on terror have been conquered. Many sufferers who in days gone by might have become bed-ridden or at the very least spent their declining years sitting in an armchair, are now living twenty or thirty years longer, while the number of centenarians grows steadily.

However, if you go back to the age of the Tudors, (loosely taken as being from 1457 to 1603, around 100 years); the Hanoverian Georges (approximately 80 years or so) or the Victorians, (1837 – 1901) life as one grew older must have seemed bleak indeed, and it is not surprising that to reach the Biblical ‘three score years and ten’ was considered a major achievement.

Take for instance, the young, strong, and by all accounts handsome Prince Hal (1491-1547), second son of Henry VII, who later became famous as Henry VIII the husband of six wives, most of whom met fates of varying unpleasantness. During his teenage years and up until his late twenties, King Henry was a good looking, physically active and charming man whose major passions in life were the jousting yard and hunting live game. He was reputed to have spent up to eighteen hours in the saddle without showing any ill effects and to have enjoyed gargantuan meals.

A serious accident in the Tilt Yard in his mid-thirties when a blow from a lance pierced his frontal lobe and his horse fell on him during a tournament rendered him unconscious for over thirty minutes and nearly caused the loss of his right eye. Scientists today think the injury to his frontal lobe was the cause of his uncontrollable mood swings and extreme behaviour in later years. The accident had even more serious consequences, as the tibia in his right leg was badly broken and a number of his major skeletal bones damaged. When his second wife, Anne Boleyn, three months pregnant with her second child, was told about his fall in the jousting yard she got such a fright that she miscarried of their much longed-for son and Henry’s unbridled fury at this mishap was at the root of the false charges he concocted against her which a short while later, led to her beheading.

As he grew older, he was forced to curtail his exercise regime which led to obesity and constipation while the leg injuries became so bad the bone was infected. His diet was exacerbated by his huge intake of red meat, but included no vegetables, fruit or fibrous products. This caused his health to deteriorate and his mood swings and frightening rages made him almost impossible to live with. His condition affected his many marriages as the injuries became major health issues and probably affected his ability to sire a living heir.

Despite all his efforts and after his various wives had endured numerous pregnancies his only surviving son was Edward VI, who died at sixteen.

The limited medical and surgical knowledge of those days meant that his injuries were largely undiagnosed and eventually healed after a fashion, but records say that as he grew older the stench from his rotting legs could be smelt three rooms away. When he approached, people turned away and pressed scented cloths to their noses in an attempt to stifle the awful smell.

Later monarchs suffered just as badly from the primitive medical care of those days. George III, known as “Farmer George” or “Mad” King George reigned in England from 1760 to 1820, was inflicted with a rare blood disease called porphyria. He also suffered from blindness. Whether or not this combination was the cause of his later intermittent bouts of madness, or whether he suffered from a form of dementia cannot be established definitively at this late stage, but his condition sometimes caused him to speak for many hours without pause, and he claimed to talk to angels. He once greeted an oak tree as King Frederick William III of Prussia and attempted to knight him.

During his illness his doctors treated him with what they said were the latest methods, but which really took the form of inhuman forms of punishment. He was immersed for extended periods in extremely hot baths and then plunged protesting into freezing water; restrained by being roped to a chair for hours or locked into darkened empty rooms. They starved him and placed him on a severely restricted diet in the hopes of ‘forcing the devils of madness’ to leave his body. Treatment of this kind would today lead to arrest on personal injury charges and while such examples of extreme suffering inflicted on this poor man in the name of science are unusual, they indicate the archaic level of medical knowledge of the time.

Queen Victoria was one of the first women in Britain to use the recently discovered chloroform which gained in popularity after she was given the gas for the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold. But for all the advances to help women in childbirth, it is worth considering the many thousands of women who suffered and endured years of sexual or gynecological pain, discomfort and sterility from infections caught from their erring husbands, as well as undiagnosed and untreated ‘female troubles’. Also, in different cultures the extreme subjugation and mutilation imposed upon women according to what is considered “normal” in the societies in which they live.

Then last, but by no means least, we come to arthritis (or “Arthuritis”); old-fashioned rheumatism, stomach complaints and today’s rising fears of possible damage from constant and prolonged use of the modern cell-or mobile phones and WiFi towers*.

In conclusion, whether you enjoy the many benefits of the advances in medical science and modern inventions, or are one of those stout souls determined to ‘tough it out’ to the last; in today’s world you have the greatest freedom of choice in medical care and medication in the history of mankind.

*To quote from an article on the internet...

“An astronomer once quipped that if Neil Armstrong had taken a cell phone to the Moon in 1969, it would have appeared to be the third most powerful source of microwave radiation in the universe, next only to the Sun and the Milky Way. He was right. Life evolved with negligible levels of microwave radiation. An increasing number of scientists speculate that our own cells, in fact, use the microwave spectrum to communicate with one another, like children whispering in the dark, and that cell phones, like jackhammers, interfere with their signaling. In any case, it is a fact that we are all being bombarded, day in and day out, whether we use a cell phone or not, by an amount of microwave radiation that is some ten million times as strong as the average natural background. And it is also a fact that most of this radiation is due to technology that has been developed since the 1970s.”...


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