A Short History of Medicine

2000 BC: “Here, eat this root.”
1000 BC: “That root is heathen, say this prayer.”
1850 AD: “That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.”
1940 AD: “That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.”
1985 AD: “That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.”
2000 AD: “That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.”

Author unknown

It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy.

Chinese proverb

The pain-relieving ingredient — there’s always got to be a lot of that. Nobody wants anything less than extra-strength. “Give me the maximum allowable human dosage. Figure out what will kill me, and then back it off a little bit.”

Jerry Seinfeld

It is not a case we are treating; it is a living, palpitating, alas, too often suffering fellow creature.

John Brown

First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.

Steve Martin

The conditions necessary for devastating epidemics or pandemics just didn’t exist until the agricultural revolution. The claim that modern medicine and sanitation save us from infectious diseases that ravaged pre-agricultural people (something we hear often) is like arguing that seat belts and air bags protect us from car crashes that were fatal to our prehistoric ancestors.

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

The true aim of medicine is surely not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices.

H.L. Mencken

We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.

Atul Gawande

Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do “practice”?

George Carlin

There is no alternative medicine. There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t work.

John Diamond

The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.


This is health: to have a body functioning so perfectly that when its few simple needs are met it never calls attention to its own existence.

Bertha Stuart Dyment

We cannot get much of what we want — sleep, pleasure, activity, or company — when we are sick, and we rarely manage to accommodate ourselves to these losses. We are impossibly frustrated every night we cannot sleep, angry every time we cannot go out, envious when our friends go off skiing, resentful when they eat the foods forbidden to us. . . . One is quickly reminded that passions are their own punishment.

Kat Duff

The delicate and infirm go for sympathy not to the well and buoyant, but to those who have suffered like themselves.

Catharine Esther Beecher

No man needs curing of his individual sickness; his universal malady is what he should look to.

Djuna Barnes

In vain we shall penetrate more and more deeply the secrets of the structure of the human body. We shall not dupe nature; we shall die as usual.

Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

The Teaching of Buddha

Treatment originates outside you; healing comes from within.

Andrew Weil

Though the doctors treated him, let his blood, and gave him medications to drink, he nevertheless recovered.

Leo Tolstoy