Full text loading...
Chapter 3 : Avicenna, a Thousand Years Ahead of His Time
The critical importance of translation of medical texts from a variety of cultures, but notably ancient Greek, led to the emergence of medieval Islamic medicine. Also, the system for delivering medical care and training doctors took on a new and distinctive quality. The first comprehensive medical reference, the Canon of Medicine, was written, which was the culmination of medical thought to date. In Isfahan, Avicenna completed two major works, the Book of Healing and the Canon of Medicine. Avicenna wrote many medical texts, but the Canon of Medicine stands alone. Even though the Canon is largely an extension of Greco-Roman medical thought, the book contains Avicenna's remarkably insightful observations, such as his recommendations for dealing with malignancy. Avicenna gave medicine its first codified lessons on evidence-based clinical trials when he listed principles for reliable experimental investigations of drugs in humans. The Canon provides additional food for thought for infectious disease practice. It distinguishes mediastinitis from pleurisy, describes the contagious nature of sexual diseases, and proposes the use of quarantine to limit the spread of phthisis (an archaic term for tuberculosis). One outbreak became synonymous with disease in the Middle Ages in Western Europe: bubonic plague. The contradictory advice that physicians offered during outbreaks of the plague was indicative of the chaotic medical thinking of the age. Avicenna wrote extensively about the interplay between the mind and body in the Canon of Medicine. The Canon of Medicine contains the most extraordinary supposition about the contagious nature of phthisis.