Medical emergencies in old days

How people in the old days were managing medical emergencies when no facility was available?


In the early 1800s when any medical emergencies were treated by poorly managed and less accredited ‘casualty departments’ found only in the major hospitals of that time. Yes, casualty department was the name appointed for the department responsible for treating medical emergencies, ranging from stomach pain, dehydration, troubled breathing to a broken arm, fractured ribs or any accidental trauma. Let’s contemplate on the factors that gave birth to the medical emergency speciality in the medical world.

The evolution

As the choice of the name suggests, the department was staffed by casualty officers, usually junior doctors who have a total experience of one or two years. Most of these young doctors were aiming for a career in the surgical field and an experience of six months or more was mandatory before they could go forward with their surgical fellowship. Gaining experience as a casualty officer was regarded unavoidable as it might make or break a doctor’s future prospects, especially when surgical specialities are in question.

In addition to the lack of proper management, the department was on the mercy of inexperienced doctors, so the people attending the casualty department for uncommon medical problems such as chest pain, breathlessness, and chronic cough were referred to the relevant general practitioner. Therefore, delay in the treatment usually made the problem worse for the patients because there was no specialist but the casualty officers with the nursing and the administrative staff.

Such arrangements to run the most important department of a hospital were a recipe for disaster. No wonder, as soon as the National Health Services (NHS) stood on their feet, they immediately shut down the casualty departments. In the late 1900s, Sir Harry Platt with other members of the NHS suggested that ‘casualty’ should be replaced by ‘accident and emergency department.’ Later on, Sir John Bruce’s reports were quite beneficial in introducing a consultant as part of the team of accident and emergency medicine.

It is not surprising that due to the lack of facilities and inadequately skilled personnel, management of accident and trauma emergencies in the casualty department was a catastrophe. Doctors and nurses were left to their own devices to handle medical emergencies with whatever means possible. For traumas like lacerations, burns and broken bones, the fundamental treatment was somewhat similar to today’s medicine. However, for emergencies of the medical nature such as fever, sore throat, persistent cough, stomach ache, headache, etc, some doctors opt for herbal remedies, and some consider already tried and tested first aid techniques to ease the symptoms.

So, how were doctors managing medical emergencies in the past?


It is an effective technique to reduce swelling by placing a cold piece of meat or a chilled bottle of drink in the affected area. Since steroids with one of their anti-inflammatory qualities are only recently invented, doctors and healthcare professionals used to turn to other means for managing swelling and inflammation.

Stopping the Bleeding

If surgery is not an option or there is a delay in the operation for stopping the bleeding, the casualty doctors stopped bleeding by applying pressure to the wounds with the help of gauze or a cardigan if gauze pad is unavailable. Using any of these materials to apply pressure and hold it there on the wound until the bleeding stops, gets the job done. For stopping the bleeding from small cuts, applying lip balm over the minor cut has proven effective in stopping the bleeding.

Perfume Spray on Mosquito/insect Bite Pain

In olden days, perfumes and body sprays are applied to insect bite area to give comfort.

Cloth Sponging to relieve high-grade fever

In case of higher temperatures, people in past were using cloth pieces soaked in water (preferably cold) and they were put on forehead, hands, feet, abdomen, thigh and arms.

Herbal Remedies for Severe Infection

People in old ages were using different herbs like ginger, Senna, turmeric, cinchona etc. as alternatives to today’s antibiotics to treat severe infections.
See our article about herbal alternatives to common antibiotics here.

No more headaches


Aspirin is the go-to medicine for treating headaches, especially those arising from stress or tension. In case of in-availability of the medication, placing pencil or pen between your teeth without biting relieves your head pain and relaxes your jaw. 

Advancements in Medical Emergency Department   

Even though the inception of an emergency department is the newest inclusion among other medical departments, the rapid advancements are noteworthy to the very least. The accident and emergency department are now the most crucial among other departments in a hospital. It is a gateway that sets in motion the diagnosis and the management plan for a patient’s illness. In case of trauma and minor accidental emergencies, the patient is patched up in the emergency department. However, if the injury is of more serious nature then on the basis of the report received from the accident and emergency doctor, the patient is referred to the appropriate department for further assessment so that necessary treatment can be performed.


In a nutshell, the accident and emergency department is considered one of the most complex specialties around the globe owing to its high accuracy and no room for error. In spite of many intricacies, a great influx of doctors is opting to specialize in this field, mainly due to the involvement of the latest cutting-edge innovations and changing of the conventional systems.     

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