„Medycyna Nowożytna” T. 22, 2016, fasc. 2

06.04.2017 | 12.02.2022

Hanna Celnik, Wojciech Paszyński – Wood Tar in Medical Treatment in Poland

The main goal of this article is to show a history of the use of just one kind of the wood tar in Polish medical treatment, which has been known in the area for around 1500 years. Apart from wood tars, in Poland are used also mineral tars, which are obtained from hard coal or, less often, brown coal. Also, article tries to answer a question about reasons of getting less popularity of wood/mineral tars in modern medical treatments.

The largest quantities of tar were produced in Central and Eastern Europe. For almost 400 years (since 15th to 19th century) Poland was the largest exporter of wood tar in Europe. It was sent in barrels to England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The region of Polesie and Białowieża forests were famous for their tars as late as in the post World War One era. The demand for tar was huge. It had may uses, from households to ship building.

Tar’s disinfectant qualities were appreciated. By the end of the 19th century it was used for disinfection of cesspits, gutters, streets, railway cars, etc. Sometimes it was mixed with lye and soap. Such a mixture was called piksol.

The medicinal working of tar had been known for ages from practice. It was only in the 19th century that more exact chemical research was conducted. Nencki and Sieber, who investigated the disinfectant action of wood tars, concluded, among other things, that this action depends on the kind of wood from which tar is made and on the region in which the wood grew. It also depends on the way in which the distillate is made. Both investigators discovered the chemical composition of beech tar. They concluded that it contains phenol, cresol, di-methylic ethers of pyrogallol; in their investigations of pine tar they found mostly guaiacol and creosol. Today we know that in most plant tars (the exact composition depends on the kind of wood used) one can find phenol, pirokatechol, benzene, toluene, naphthalene, xylene, and acetic acid.

Tree tars had wide medicinal use for ages. In particular, they were used in diseases of the skin like psoriasis, parapsoriasis, neurodermit, bacterial inflammations of the skin, some allergies (eczemas), fungal infections, (especially trichomycosis), Demodex folliculorum, seborrhea, acne vulgaris, dandruff. These substances work in a variety of ways: antiseptically, antipruric, desquamating, as local anesthetics, and anti-inflammatory agents. They block keratosis epidermis; they have expectorant, diuretic, and cholagogue action. They were applied to the skin in their natural form, sometimes diluted with olive oil, but they were also used as ointments, pastes (often with sulfur), alcohol tinctures, liquid powders, soaps, and (recently) hair shampoos.

Creosote, which is found in larger quantities in beech tar, was used as a specific drug against tuberculosis for quite long time. Oral tar derivatives were prepared as syrups or pills. 300 grams of tar was considered a safe oral dose, and the daily dose was estimated to be 1500 grams. As expectorants and disinfectants of the upper respiratory tract, tars were used until the 1940s. Attempts were made to reduce the unpalatable taste of tar, which made it the infamous figure of the proverb (“a spoon of tar in a barrel of honey”), by mixing it with honey or sugar.

After World War Two, the medicinal significance of tar diminished because the uncontrolled, and difficult to control, chemical composition of tar produced anxiety on the part of physicians. The carcinogenic role of some components of tar were also noticed. With long use of tar, the risk of epithelial cancers, which are, luckily, less dangerous than other kinds of skin cancer, grew. The first mentions of the carcinogenic character of benzopirene, which is found in plant and mineral tars, were published as early as 1905 in Japan. This result was observed in patients who were treated for skin burns for a long time, especially when the preparations were ill-purified or of unknown origin. As a result, it turned out that plant tars contain less of the carcinogenic agent than the mineral tars, and so they were used medicinally for a longer period. The production of the mineral varieties is cheaper and they do not irritate the skin so often.

Today, plant tars can (at least in theory) be prescribed inmagistral preparations, but mineral specifics are chosen more readily. Today only Prodermine is available in Polish pharmacies. The ointments called Delatar, Psorisan, Lorinden T, which until recently one could buy in pharmacies, have been discontinued as a result of implementation of the European Union directive of 2001. We can still buy hair shampoos and soaps which contain tar. They are used by those who suffer from psoriasis, epidermitis seborrhea or dandruff. However, tar maybe will return according to renessaince of natural medicine in near or further future.

Maria Ciesielska – Przegląd Lekarski-Oświęcim – the review nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize

The first issue of the Przegląd Lekarski Oświęcim, was released in April 1862 on the initiative of prof. Józef Dietl, prof. Antoni Bryk, prof. Józef Majer and prof. Fryderyk Skobel. The review was kind of an answer to the need of the medical community for the medical information in Polish language. Next to the scientific data there were published: information on scientific meetings, sanitary and epidemiological data, professional and social status of physicians but also promoted the need for a foundation of a strict medical association. As the Towarzystwo Lekarskie Krakowskie (Cracow Medical Society) was established in 1866, the review became his press organ. After the end of World War II the magazine (a fortnightly) resumed its activities as an organ of the Krakowskie Towarzystwo Lekarskie, Izba Lekarska w Krakowie, Związek Zawodowy Lekarzy R.P. i Wojewódzki Urzędu Zdrowia w Krakowie. In 1961, the Krakowskie Towarzystwo Lekarskie has taken the initiative to document the crimes of Germany during the German occupation of Poland (1939–1945) spending each year, on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the additional number of Przegląd Lekarski especially for the Auschwitz war crimes. Additional number was issued annually thanks to the efforts of the Krakow branch of the Polskie Towarzystwo Lekarskie and Zarządu Główny Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokrację and Krakowski Klubu Oświęcimski. It was selected a special Editorial Committee of the „Bulletin of Auschwitz”, which consisted of prof. Józef Bogusz, Dr. Stanislaw Kłodziński, prof. Antoni Kępiński and Piotr Bożek (since 1964 replaced by Jan Maslowski). In the years 1961–1991 Przegląd Lekarski Oświęcim published more than 1,000 articles prepared by 477 authors. Among 1000 articles there were many important sources of information on medical experiments conducted on prisoners in concentration camps, especially at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the medical consequences the so-called KZ-Syndrom. Due to the published content the magazine was considered a sign of Polish-German reconciliation and twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1992 and 1995).

Krzysztof Leśniewski  – Christian Sources of Volunteering in Hospice Care

Volunteering in hospices is a unique manifestation of care for the terminally ill patients. This kind of service in relation to suffering people is a particular example of a voluntary, free of charge, and at the same time conscious work for the others. From the very beginning of Christianity, the help addressed for the sick and suffering had its basis in the belief in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the vision of the human person as created in the image of God. In the article there was presented an understanding of charity (philanthropia) in the pagan ancient world and Christianity. Teaching about the image of God in man and its existential implications found their expression in the ministry of the diaconate and charity work carried out in Byzantine hospitals. Christian commitment in assisting people terminally ill and dying largely been conditioned by the positive treatment of the disease and patients with simultaneous belief in eternal life.

Katarzyna Pękacka-Falkowska – Wojciech Tylkowski’s Physical Disquisition on Golden Tooth and Hydrocephalus

In 1674 the Jesuit pater, Wojciech (Adalbert) Tylkowski, published at Danzig an 84-page booklet entitled A Physical Disquisition on the prodigy of two boys, one with a golden tooth, the other with a gigantic head, seen in Vilna, Lithuania. It was printed in the Cistercian cloister of Oliva and soon after became an out-of-print title. The history of a three-year old boy with a golden tooth was widely commented by 17th- and 18th century writers and naturalists, e.g. Christoph Hartknoch, Bernard O’Connor, Johann Phillip Breyne and Gabriel Rzączyński S.J., as it referred, somehow, to Jacob Horst’s De auro dente maxillari puer Silesii that was published in the late sixteenth century (1593). Histories of the miraculous children, in whom had grown the golden teeth, were an important part of a contemporary medical discourse on monsters, wonders and lusus naturae (freaks of nature).

Agnieszka Raubo – Medical aspects of humoral theory in Renaissance scholars writings.

The article reconstructs and describes the medical aspects of four types of temperaments theory in the Renaissance writings of then physicians.

The starting point for above discussion is an old belief – deep-rooted in the Ancient and Middle Ages medicine – that four elements (Fire, Air, Earth and Water) are building the human body. Also the are Four Humors or bodily fluids (moists) which are: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. With them are connected the Four Basic Qualities (moisture /Wet, heat (warmth)/Hot, dryness/Dry and coldness/Cold).

This basic classification was based on detailed description of diffrent humors, especially in the view that

In scholarly medical books of Renaissance the human body was thought to contain a mix of the four humors. Each person had a particular humoral “constitution,” and health was defined as the proper humoral balance for that person. Sickness was seen as an imbalance in the quantity or quality of one of the four bodily humors. A typical diagnosis of a patient would take the balance of these humors into consideration. As a diagnostic tool in different diseases the doctors frequently used uroscopy and arterial pulse characteristic and evaluation.

The humors were also used to refer to four individual psychological temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic. Humoralism was also used in the ethiology of syphilis and in other contagious diseases like plagues. The search of successful treatment was based on tendency to restore the proper humoral balance. Medieval medications was mostly based on „simples” made of single ingredients (medicinal herbs, spices, stones, animal parts) but sometimes also were used compound remedies. The primary source of knowledge for Polish healers and physicians were medieval herbals.

Monika Urbanik – Electrohomeopathy and its creator, Cesare Mattei (1809–1896)

In the 60s of the nineteenth century, an Italian count, Cesare Mattei, enriched the arsenal of therapeutic methods with a new empirical system, which he named electrohomeopathy. Except the homeopathy by Hahnemann, an inspiration for the creation of electrohomeopathy derived from the research of Mesmer, Carl Ludwig von Reichenbach (1788–1869), as well as and many others who had discovered that in the human body, there had been “circulating” magnetic and electric forces, and disturbances of normal vital functions had tended to be caused by an imbalance of these forces. The aim of the medicines by Count Mattei was to regulate this balance and thereby, cure the body. Electrohomeopathy widespread all over the world thanks to the literature on the subject and many people involved in selling electrohomeopathic drugs. Books about electrohomeopathy and medicines suggested by Count Cesare Mattei were published in many languages. Also in Poland, his works were issued several times. In his lifetime, the Bologna Count found many followers, who were releasing imitations of electrohomeopathic drugs. There were also those who were modelling after his method and tried to improve and expand it. This group included Carl Friedrich Zimpel (1801–1879), Albert Sauter (1846–1896) and Theodor Krauss (1864–1924).

Maria J. Turos- Together with Jean Dominique Larrey in Warsaw and the surrounding area in winter 1806–1807

This is a presentation on the basis of preserved documents and correspondence places where Warsaw and Mazowsze spent the winter 1806–1807 one of the most eminent surgeons beginning of the nineteenth century, Jean Dominique Larrey

Lilianna Wdowiak – Hidden treasures crowned with magical formulas? Folk medicine in the notion of intelligentsia in the period of Partitions

The isolation of morphine from opium in 1804 by Friedrich W. Sertürner marked the dawn of a new era of searching for remedies in plants. The idea of undiscovered treasures in folk medicine of old Polish lands emerged as early as the beginning of the 19th century. However, during the first half of the 19th century the majority of doctors considered folk medicine merely a collection of superstitions. Such views were shared by, among others, Ignacy Fijałkowski, Kazimierz Wroczyński and Michał Zieleniewski. In 1850 Florian Sawiczewski published an article describing ca. 115 medicinal plants and began giving lectures on pharmacognosia for students of pharmacy. The appeal of Izydor Kopernicki issued during the Second Congress of Doctors and Naturalists in Lvov in 1875, encouraging the study of remedies in folk medicine did not bring the desired effect. Later in the years 1891–1894 two monographies written by doctors about folk medicine were published. In 1893 Władysław Niemiłowicz issued his appeal to send in folk remedies. At the end of the century during a surge of therapeutic scepticism and nihilism caused by the ideas of younger Vienna clinical school, the intelligentsia became interested in folk medicine and natural healing. Edmund Biernacki was against it. Serious studies in the area of pharmacognosia and phytochemistry were commenced after the establishment of Polish State.

Magdalena Schymanietz – Transmigration of Silesian doctors to North Rhine-Westphalia since the 1970s with special regard to hospital doctors

Migration has been a common subject of research for many years. Only in recent years the migration of individual groups comes into focus. The migration of doctors is a part of the history of doctors in Germany. With a glance at the history of the immigrated silesian doctors, one can observe that most of them are located in North Rhine-Westphalia. With 1042 polish doctors this region is, compared to all other provinces, the most common target federal state.

The key factor in Germany, that moved foreign doctors to work there, is the high demand for professionals. Already there are 5000 vacancies in the medical service in hospitals that can not be occupied. At the same time, many german doctors emigrate abroad.

The recruited doctors are from all over Europe, many of them from Eastern European countries. The opportunities in the medical profession are, especially to make a clinical career, actually good for polish doctors. The share of polish hospital doctors is 70%, rather high compared with the other countries of immigration.

Our own investigations of the language skills of physicians, emigrated from Poland to Germany show, that a large proportion of immigrants from Poland / Silesia had low to moderate language skills. Nevertheless, the integration into the profession succeeded particularly well. Silesian doctors have the great advantage that they do not see themselves confronted with cultural problems, which can be explained by historical and geographical proximity to Germany.

For 95% of them the working conditions, salaries and career prospects have improved. The salaries of german hospital doctors are attractive and competitive compared to other european countries.

2012 Poland was with 184,000 immigrants once again the main country of origin in the migration statistics. Most of the polish immigrants live in North Rhine-Westphalia (567,000). All these people are also patients. Hospitals have up to 30-50% patients with a migration background. It turns out that not all of these patients are so powerful in the german language that they are able to understand certain medical enlightenment talks. Here the silesian doctors have great advantages.

Conclusion: The success story of the Silesians living in NRW is directly intertwined with the history of the silesian doctors and vice versa. In comparison with migrants from other european countries, silesian doctors have better opportunities and a better future in Germany. They seize this opportunity. At the same time they are a chance for Germany.

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