The strange doctors of 15th-century Española

Rollin HuI am by no means a historian. I am nowhere near as well-read as I should be to be commenting upon historical events. In fact, almost all my knowledge about history comes from Wikipedia [citation needed].

But I do believe that history has pertinence in our lives today. Sometimes. Not really. We’ll see how this goes. Nevertheless, it is damn interesting and entertaining to know the way things were, and we’ll see whether or not they matter at all now.

The first primary source reading I’ve done in my college career is a compilation of chapters from a book called La Relación del Taíno by Ramón Pané, which I would rate 10/10 for being so exorbitantly absurd. From my understanding of the Wikipedia page (which is only in Spanish), Pané was a monk who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. And then Columbus dumped him on some island and told him to get to know the people. From what I have read, their health care system was very messed up, more messed up than what Republicans think of the Affordable Care Act.

Physicians on the island of Española at this time were called buhuitihus (that word yields only 137 results in a Google search). So prior to a house call for a sick person, buhuitihus would cover their faces in soot and stick a mixture of bone and meat in their mouths and hide it there to use later (it’ll be a surprise). Upon entering the home of the sick person, the buhuitihus would set the mood by kicking children out, vomiting and then proceed to suck the sick person’s neck, shoulder, stomach and cheeks.

After doing this, the buhuitihus would say something along the lines of, “You’re sick because you didn’t worship this god enough. You’re an idiot. But it’s okay, I have sucked out all the bad stuff in you. See, here it is, take care of it.” This is the climax of the buhuitihus’s magic trick, when he takes the bone/meat mixture out of his mouth and presents it to the sick person. Ta-da. And that is how doctors worked on the island of Española at the start of the 16th century.

By the way, that wasn’t even the craziest custom described in the reading. There’s another ritual where the people would ask a dead person if they were dead, and if the dead person spoke and said that they were dead, the people would accept that the dead person was dead. This reading was my introduction to a history class taken at the college level.

It’s kind of interesting, but did I really have to know this? Not going to lie, these people were pretty dumb. They accepted trickery and absurdity as a truth in their lives. But are we any better? Are we also prone to having dumb ideas? Yeah, kind of.

According to a Pew Research Center study, almost one of 10 Americans believe that vaccines for diseases like the mumps or rubella are unsafe for children. In a 2015 Gallup poll, six percent of adult Americans believe that vaccines cause autism.

That’s pretty dumb. But humankind hasn’t entirely sucked at making advances in medical health. Going from crappy magic tricks to that Da Vinci Surgical System robot on campus is certainly a significant leap. But there is still work to be done. So I guess learning about this made me realize the progress we have made and the progress still to be made.

Note to pre-meds: In your future career, please don’t do any of the things that buhuitihus did. It’s not a good idea.

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