Monday, 31 March 2014

A Blog With A Purpose? A Organ with meaning?

I just had my gallbladder reluctantly removed from my body so things have been a bit slow here at historyminion. It's weird how one little vestigial organ removal can decimate my bank account and my brain power all in the same week.

While I've been waiting to heal up, I decided to stick to schedules and features so people will know what the week will bring to their eyeballs courtesy of their inter-webiness viewing. Mondays I will muse on news reports with historical significance. Wednesdays I'll answer a strange history question from you, my reading public. If I have no questions, no blog! Fridays are Forgotten Stories Day, where I look at historical, world changing events that were front page news then, and everyone forgot about now.

You'd remember the history of the Seven Years War if it was this cute.
Now, back to my gallbladder.

Well, all of our gallbladders use to be viewed as being much more important than we view it now. The Roman anatomist Galen (200 CE) who made the liver the principal organ of the human body, not the brain or the heart. "The liver is the source of the veins and the principal instrument of sanguification," he observed in On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body. This means the liver's two buddies - the gall bladder and spleen - were two crucial subsidiary organs of the liver.  All three organs worked together to produce and store three of the four humors of the body:  blood (liver), yellow bile (gall bladder) and black bile (spleen).  Three-quarters of the substances which established the balance of a healthy body could be found in this region. 

Our organs as drawn in the middle ages look more like root vegs to me.
While the liver may have been the most importance organ to observe and describe in this sector of the body, the gall bladder and spleen also provided interesting material to contemplate. Humoral theory (where the body had four humours that affected our systems completely) suggested that each had a profound effect on the emotions. The gall bladder regulated the emotions by being a repository for gall.  "Its substance is slender," wrote 16th century physician Berengario, "because it does not digest anything and hard so that it may resist the sharpness of the gall." 

As the decline of the theory of humours int he 18th century, and medical sciences looked deeper into the functions of the gallbladder, gall stones were identified as causing pain and trouble for other organs, especially the tied to it pancreas. The first removals of stones and the gallbladder were recorded in the 1700s, but very few people survived. It was in the 1880s when the first successful Cholecystectomy or gallbladder removal - the person lived - were done in England and America.

What do you mean you can live without me?
Some cultures still place great emphasis on you keeping your gall inside you. In the Chinese language, the gallbladder is associated with courage and other related idioms including "a body completely [of] gall"  and "single gallbladder hero". In the ZangFu theory of Chinese medicine, the gallbladder is the centre of decision making. This puts me into a bit of trouble, as mine has now been taken out and disposes of. An excuse finally to act like a nut!

 For more on the history of removing your gallbladder, see the History of Gallbladder Surgery. Enjoy.

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