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The captioned photograph essentially matches the painted image on an ancient Greek vase! Bloodletting, the withdrawal of blood from a patient to cure or prevent an illness, was the mainstay of medical practice for almost 2000 years. Based on the principle that health was the result of a balance among the four “humors” or bodily fluids (yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood) and that disease was the result of an imbalance, physicians used bloodletting to treat their patients. Overwhelmingly, however, save for hypertension, the historical use of bloodletting was harmful.

In The Deadliest Sport, the third and next-to-be-released Miriam bat Isaac adventure, Miriam proves her superior knowledge of medical practices when her elderly friend Amram becomes ill. First she asks his servant:

“What did the physician say?”

“He said what they all say, that either Amram will kill the disease or the disease will kill Amram.”

“G-d of our fathers, why didn’t you tell me he’s sick?” I cried, wheeling out of my chair, pumping my fists like a madwoman. “And the treatment is all wrong! Amram needs his blood! You see how pale he’s been!”

“Egad, you’re right.”

I squeezed my arms around my chest and breathed deeply to regain my composure, but the taste of fear remained on my lips.

“Tell the physician to stop the bloodletting and have him tie ligatures instead—not too tightly— around Amram’s arms and legs, near his shoulders and just below the groin, to trap the blood in his limbs and keep it from flooding his chest. Then send for some garlic to ease his breathing."

In my next blog, I’ll tell you what else she prescribes, a medicine you’ve likely taken many times.

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