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Thread: Medicinal Leeches

  1. #1 Medicinal Leeches 
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    I begin, as so often, with a story. Have you ever been swimming or enjoying a cool dip in a less than commercially controlled bath (creek, quiet lake), and emerged to find one of those sickening-looking things attached to your body somewhere? I had one on my ankle, my Mother flicked it off, the bleeding following was surprisingly copious.

    My Grandma kept several in a jar above the china cabinet. I remember this as a kid of about 8. I watched them swim about, in the jar. They were then purchasable at any self-respecting drugstore! Though I never observed it, my Dad told of their use: during spells of undescribed malaise, she placed several about her lower neck in front, allowing them to draw out the bad blood from her system.

    This was, believe it or not, a commonly prescribed practice by Doctors. In the event the patient was too "squeamish" to carry out this ridiculous (IMO) procedure himself, the doctor performed it in his office.

    Does anyone have similar personal knowledge/experience relating to leeches? jocular


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    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    There is a small, shallow body of fresh water a few miles from here where the locals go to cool off in warm weather. Years ago, I was wading in the water and peering at the minnows, dragonflies and other creatures of interest when I saw what distinctly looked like a leech to me and I quickly made exit to dry land. Upon making query of those who regularly bathed there, I learned that yes, there were a few leeches in the pond but they seemed not to be a bother.

    Maybe these northern leeches are not the kind that more commonly attach to people but I have never found interest to return. I do not like sharing my bathing water with other life forms and so I continue to seek out shade when it grows hot and enjoy my water in the shower.


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    If you have a finger or toe reattached after an accident, you might be glad of a leech to help with the healing.

    Leeches Latch on After Reconstructive Surgery
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    My Grandma kept several in a jar above the china cabinet. I remember this as a kid of about 8. I watched them swim about, in the jar. They were then purchasable at any self-respecting drugstore! Though I never observed it, my Dad told of their use: during spells of undescribed malaise, she placed several about her lower neck in front, allowing them to draw out the bad blood from her system.
    I am amazed (but I suppose I shouldn't be) that this was still being done within living memory...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    My Grandma kept several in a jar above the china cabinet. I remember this as a kid of about 8. I watched them swim about, in the jar. They were then purchasable at any self-respecting drugstore! Though I never observed it, my Dad told of their use: during spells of undescribed malaise, she placed several about her lower neck in front, allowing them to draw out the bad blood from her system.
    I am amazed (but I suppose I shouldn't be) that this was still being done within living memory...
    Can't find a quote, but I remember being absolutely stunned when reading Simone de Beauvoir. An interview, a memoir? I just can't recall. She was talking about Sartre having a longish illness before he died and when she visited, the doctors were bleeding him. In 1980! Un***ingbelievable.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Well, that's the French for you...

    Unless he was suffering from haemochromatosis, which I gather is one of the conditions that bleeding can be effective for?
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    My Grandma kept several in a jar above the china cabinet. I remember this as a kid of about 8. I watched them swim about, in the jar. They were then purchasable at any self-respecting drugstore! Though I never observed it, my Dad told of their use: during spells of undescribed malaise, she placed several about her lower neck in front, allowing them to draw out the bad blood from her system.
    I am amazed (but I suppose I shouldn't be) that this was still being done within living memory...
    Then you did not read adelady's link, a portion of which is quoted below: joc

    "Today's plastic surgeons usually call upon them once other methods to decrease venous congestion, such as pricking the skin with a needle or using nitropaste (a cardiac drug that dilates blood vessels), have been exhausted. “We don't want to use them unless we have to,” said Ronald M. Friedman, M.D., a plastic surgeon in private practice in Plano, Texas. “It's a salvage situation.”

    Reattaching a digit and reconnecting its blood vessels is painstaking work that is often carried out under the microscope. Problems with reestablishing blood flow occur about 10% of the time when “we can get the artery hooked up, but not the vein,” explained Louis P. Bucky, M.D., a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

    Similarly, a tram flap, abdominal tissue used to create a new breast after a mastectomy, may also become engorged with blood that cannot find its way out of the affected area. Leeches work by “removing extra venous blood and increasing blood flow” to the region, according to Ira D. Papel, M.D., a plastic surgeon in private practice in Owings Mills, Md., and associate professor at John Hopkins University, Division of Facial Plastic Surgery, in Baltimore."
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    This is a little off topic - same organism, different application. Still, in celebration of the leech:
    Leeches’ blood meals could give more clues on saola, world’s rarest mammal : Nature News Blog
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    Then you did not read adelady's link, a portion of which is quoted below:
    I was well aware of the modern medical use of leeches (and maggots and, potentially, intestinal worms).

    I was just not aware the mediaeval practice of "bleeding" (presumably to remove "bad humors") was still in use as folk medicine.
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  11. #10  
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    For the longest of time, that was an extremely common practice to fight all kind of sickness, mostly when they had no clue what was wrong.
    I can admit they have some use in rare cases though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    Then you did not read adelady's link, a portion of which is quoted below:
    I was well aware of the modern medical use of leeches (and maggots and, potentially, intestinal worms).

    I was just not aware the mediaeval practice of "bleeding" (presumably to remove "bad humors") was still in use as folk medicine.
    Forgive me then. My Grandma's use of leeches dates back to the 1960s; she died in 1965. joc
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    Are we talking about insurance agents?
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    Quote Originally Posted by shlunka View Post
    Are we talking about insurance agents?
    Nah. The list begins with lawyers, followed by realtors, then mass-marketing callers, then, finally, insurance agents. joc
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  15. #14  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jocular View Post
    Then you did not read adelady's link, a portion of which is quoted below:
    I was well aware of the modern medical use of leeches (and maggots and, potentially, intestinal worms).

    I was just not aware the mediaeval practice of "bleeding" (presumably to remove "bad humors") was still in use as folk medicine.
    Forgive me then. My Grandma's use of leeches dates back to the 1960s; she died in 1965. joc
    I must stress that it definitely was not intended as any kind of slur on your dear Grandma (I'm sure she was lovely ) - just a general comment on how communities are able to preserve traditions.
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    Somewhat related on this theme, I just finished a book relating the last two centuries of medecine, mostly surgery, through the eyes of 5 generations of a family. Its called "the blood princes". Its quite awesome to learn about how they used to stumble in the dark and slowly find the way. Discoceries like anesthesia, bacterias... Cultural entertainment type book.
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  17. #16  
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    The application of medical leeches is indeed still a valid medical proceedure. They can be used anywhere there is a need to remove blood from a local area. In limb reattachment surgery the ateries are relatively easy to repair but veins collapse and are hard to find in order to repair them. The limb tissues will die if they do not get fresh blood coming in so the arteies need to be repaired ASAP. The veins will self repair in time. So leeches are used to remove blood from the limb so that there is room for fresh blood to enter.
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