Shortly after Arculanus, when the Middle Ages are over—if they end with the middle of the fifteenth century, though perhaps not if the later date of the discovery of America is to be taken as the medieval terminal—John de Vigo has in a few lines a very complete description of the method of filling teeth with gold-leaf which deserves to be quoted. Only that it was a common practice he would surely have described it more in detail, though he could have added nothing to the significance of what he has to say : " By means of a drill or file the putrefied or corroded part of the teeth should be completely removed. The cavity left should then be filled with gold-leaf".
Much more is known about the medieval anticipation of other specialities—those of the throat and nose, and eye and ear—and the surprise is with regard to dentistry, which is usually quite unknown. The fact, however, that dentistry developed so much more than is usually thought prepares the mind for the anticipations in other departments. Following that of dentistry should come naturally the mouth and throat, and it happens that the men whose writings in dentistry are known also touched on these subjects.
The medical writers of the early Middle Ages, particularly Aetius, Alexander of Tralles, and Paul of AEgina, have not a little to say with regard to affections of the throat and nose, and the eye and ear. Alexander's chapter on the Treatment of Affections of the Ear, Gurlt considers ample evidence of large practical experience and power of observation. Alexander describes the ordinary mode of getting water out of the external auditory canal by standing on the leg corresponding to the side in which the water is, and kicking out with the opposite leg. Foreign bodies should be removed by an ear spoon, or a small instrument wrapped in wool and dipped in sticky material. He suggests sneezing with the head leaning toward the side on which the foreign body is present. Insects or worms that find their way into the ear may be killed by injections of dilute acid and oil or other substances.
Paul of AEgina has a very practical technique for the removal of fish-bones or other objects caught in the throat. He also gives the detailed technique of opening the larynx or trachea, with the indications for this operation. He also describes how wounds of the neck should be sewed after attempts at suicide. In a word, the more one knows of these old-time medieval writers of the sixth and seventh centuries the clearer it becomes that they had learned their lessons well from the ancients, and passed on an excellent tradition to their colleagues of succeeding generations. If these lessons were not properly taken, it was because the disturbance of civilization caused by the coming down of the Teutonic invaders into Italy took away interest in the things of the mind and of the body, until the coming of another upward turn in progress.
Arculanus has some very interesting paragraphs with regard to the treatment of conditions in the nose. For instance, in the treatment of polyps, he says that they should be incised and cauterized.
Soft polyps should be drawn out with a toothed tenaculum as far as can be without risk of breaking them off. The incision should be made at the root, so that nothing or just as little as possible of the pathological structure be allowed to remain. It should be cut off with fine scissors ; or with a narrow, file just small enough to permit ingress into the nostrils; or with a scalpel without cutting edges on the sides, but only at its extremity, and this cutting edge should be broad and well sharpened. If there is danger of haemorrhage, or if there is fear of it, the instruments with which the section is made should be fired (igniantur)—that is, heated at least to a dull redness. Afterwards the stump, if any remains, should be touched with a hot iron or else with cauterizing agents, so that as far as possible it should be obliterated.
After the operation, a pledget of cotton dipped in the green ointment described by Rhazes should be placed in the nose. This pledget should have a string fastened to it, hanging from the nose, in order that it may be easily removed. At times it may be necessary to touch the root of the polyp with a stylet, on which cotton has been placed that has been dipped in aqua fortis (nitric acid). It is important that this cauterizing fluid should be rather strong, so that after a certain number of touches a rather firm eschar is produced. In all these manipulations in the nose Arculanus recommends that the nose should be held well open by means of a nasal speculum. Pictures of all these instruments occur in his extant works, and indeed this constitutes one of their most interesting and valuable features. They are to be seen in Gurlt's " History of Surgery".
In some of the cases he had seen, the polyp was so difficult to get at, or was situated so far back in the nose, that it could not be reached by means of a tenaculum or scissors, or even the special knife devised for that purpose. For these patients Arculanus describes an operation that is to be found in the older writers on surgery—Paul of ^Egina (AEginetas), Avicenna, and some of the other Arabian surgeons. For this, three horse-tail hairs are twisted together and knotted in three or four places, and one end is passed through the nostrils and out through the mouth. The ends of this are then pulled on backward and forward after the fashion of a saw. Arculanus remarks, evidently with the air of a man who has tried it and not been satisfied, that this operation is quite uncertain, and seems to depend a great deal on chance, and much reliance must not be placed on it. Arculanus suggests a substitute method by which latent polyps —or occult polyps, as he calls them—may be removed.
Among the affections of the upper air passages mentioned by Arculanus are various forms of sore throat, which he calls Synanche or Cynanche, or angina. A milder form of the affection was called Parasynanche. The medieval teaching with regard to an angina that was causing severe difficulty of breathing was to perform tracheotomy. Arculanus goes into some detail with regard to affections of the uvula, which was made much more responsible for throat affections than at the present time. The popular tradition in our time of the uvula and its fall is evidently a remnant of the medieval teaching with regard to it. Arculanus's description of the removal of the uvula, or at least of the tip of it, gives a very good idea of how thorough the teaching of surgical technique was in his time. His directions are : " Seat the patient upon a stool in a bright light, while an assistant holds the head; after the tongue has been firmly depressed by means of a speculum, let the assistant hold this speculum in place. With the left hand then insert an instrument, a stilus, by which the uvula is pulled forward ; and then remove the end of it by means of a heated knife or some other process of cauterization. The mouth should afterwards be washed out with fresh milk".