Context with al-Zahrawi


This is a rant.

But first, context.

Jonathan and I play Redactle on a regular basis. There's a play together option, where multiple players can play on the same board, guessing independently of each other, in an attempt to guess the Wikipedia article. I enjoy this game a lot. I enjoy reading the Wikipedia articles after we guess the article title. The game is an opportunity to learn something new, often many something news. There's a daily game, with a "new random game" option. We will often play 3-4 games in a social setting. It's fun.

One of today's redactles was al-Zahrawi, a physician, surgeon and chemist from al-Andalus, considered one of the greatest surgeons of the Middle Ages (and, let's be real, all time). His pioneering contributions to the field of surgical procedures are still applied today. Like, the man was amazing.

Here comes the rant.

The article reads:

While al-Zahrawi never performed the surgical procedure of tracheotomy, he did treat a slave girl who had cut her own throat in a suicide attempt. Al-Zahrawi sewed up the wound and the girl recovered, thereby proving that an incision in the larynx could heal. In describing this important case-history he wrote:

A slave-girl seized a knife and buried it in her throat and cut part of the trachea; and I was called to attend her. I found her bellowing like a sacrifice that has had its throat cut. So I laid the wound bare and found that only a little haemorrhage had come from it; and I assured myself that neither an artery nor jugular vein had been cut, but air passed out through the wound. So I hurriedly sutured the wound and treated it until healed. No harm was done to the slave-girl except for a hoarseness in the voice, which was not extreme, and after some days she was restored to the best of health. Hence we may say that laryngotomy is not dangerous.

Okay, a slave girl tries to commit suicide, and fails. There is a reason she tried to commit suicide, and let's be real, it wasn't from boredom or a feeling of ennui. A slave girl in the middle ages is nothing more than chattel. She was likey abused, probably raped or otherwise tortured daily, by who knows by how many people. Her "bellowing like a sacrifice that has had its throat cut" was probably not from pain but from the realization that she was unable to escape the unbearable torment that drove her to choose death over the life she had in the first place. No, more harm than "a hoarseness in the voice" was happening, and she was not "restored to the best of health" after healing from an attempted suicide. I would even venture to guess she was sent back to where she tried to escape from and likely had a worse life as a result. She wasn't saved and paraded around as a success story, she likely continued the hell that was her life.

Context matters so much, and sending someone back to hell because, hey, you managed a successful tracheotomy is f'ing horrible. Again, context matters, and her life wasn't worth much during his life time. And that sucks so much. F that.

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