A Bloodied Tradition
Phlebotomy, otherwise known as venipuncture, is the ancient art of drawing blood from the human body. This skill has been practiced since the time before the birth of Christ, originating in early civilizations of the ancient Egyptians and Mayans over 3000 years ago. This attempt to understand how the body works, from its most intimate perspective, has continuously been on the forefront of the mind of many researchers and found within the culture of many communities. As a result, these medical and spiritual explorers needed the use of various instruments as a way to be able to chart, investigate, and cleanse the body of impurities or excess fluid. The practice of phlebotomy was once unrefined and often dangerous, but it has evolved into an art where, first constructed by shamans and priests, doctors have been working diligently to bring a perception of healing and understanding to their patients.
The practice of phlebotomy originated from humorism. Humorism was a theory, later discredited, that was adopted by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and explained the structure and mechanisms of the human body. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, believed that there were four basic elements to existence: earth, air, fire, and water and these related to four basic humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. These humors were associated with particular organs of the body, such as the brain, the lungs, the spleen, and the gall bladder, respectively. People who became ill were expected to have an imbalance of these four humors. According to the BC Medical Journal, "treatments consisted of removing an amount of the excessive humor by various means such as bloodletting, purging, catharsis, diuresis, and so on" (Greenstone). During the 3rd century, Galen, a Greek physician, surgeon, and philosopher, declared that blood was the most dominant humor. Therefore, the practice of venesection became an invaluable procedure, even though it often led to the death of many patients due to the critical amounts of blood taken. This stage of phlebotomy could be viewed as an experiment rather than a viable method of treatment, because doctors of that era had neither the means of calculating the amount of blood needed to be withdrawn, nor did they have adequate procedures for reducing blood flow after treatment. Other doctors regarded bloodletting as a form of murder, such as the ancient Greek anatomist Erasistratus. He believed that veins contained blood and arteries held air and feared that the possibility of transferring air to the veins during the process of venesection would be deadly. Though phlebotomy began as a dangerous method of treatment in an attempt to understand the human body and to help the sick, it soon became a viable practice of medicine as the technology improved.
Physicians needed a way to get to the veins of their patients quickly, so several tools were fabricated over the centuries, ensuring a swift puncture including...