Because of the high mortality of surgical intervention, all sought a simple medical cure for urinary tract obstruction.
For centuries the practice of removing stones, or lithotomy, was looked down upon by the medical profession as a trade best left to traveling barber-surgeons, who included in their resume other minor surgical procedures such as dental extractions, bloodletting, abscess drainage, and fracture repair. Death was certain without intervention and the chance of survival from lithotomy was about 10 per cent, so physicians avoided taking on this challenge. Dr. Sydenham commented, “The patient suffers until he is finally consumed by both age and illness, and the poor man is happy to die.”
Artists were interested in the anatomy of the kidneys well before physicians understood the pathophysiology of any of these conditions.
The cure itself is something horrible, grave, and perilous. The mind recoiled at the thought of so frightful a remedy, but what remedy seems frightful when it carries hope to people in peril of death?
Anon, 16th century
Disorders of the urinary tract have played a prominent role in the history of medicine because of the fact that venereal disease and kidney stones have always been common, painful, and often fatal conditions quickly demanding the attention of patients and physicians alike.
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