Medical Mayhem

When I was in middle school I visited Colonial Williamsburg. I was especially impressed by the apothecary shop (comparable to today’s drug store). In one of the bottles was the colonial equivalent of today’s aspirin. It was HUGE!! I could not begin to understand how someone could swallow such! Fortunately medicine has advanced considerably since then.

That is why I was so fascinated with Stephanie Bearce’s new book in her TWISTED TRUE TALES FROM SCIENCE series, MEDICAL MAYHEM. It is filled with bizarre medical tales of old and ancient medical practices, sufficiently weird to delight anyone, but especially 9—12 year olds. The stories are enhanced by Eliza Bolli’s fun illustrations.

One example of the strange tales made me think that hypochondria was nonexistent in Ancient Egypt, as getting sick might mean you are prescribed animal dung to eat and being rubbed in fat from dead cats! This is not even the worst thing they did, but you must read the book to find out more! The ancient Greeks and Romans were almost as bad. If you had a stomach ache, you might have to eat dirt!

Some features that I like are the way Stephanie relates some of the ancient cures to modern day medicine. Native Americans utilized the herb, sage, for numerous ills. Modern researchers are now investigating the use of sage in treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

I also admire the artful way Stephanie has combined science and history. This is illustrated by the account of Vesalius, the father of anatomy, and how he effected a change in a strange human dissection practice. Another is the “Sweating Sickness” that affected Henry VIII’s court, and appeared again for several summers, then disappeared entirely, until an outbreak in 1993 in the American Southwest!

Having taught science for 30+ years, I have long been an advocate of learning by doing. I was pleasantly surprised to see, interspersed throughout the book, activities that young adults can do themselves, such as making a pump to better understand how the heart works, or my favorite, making Fake Snot!

Be sure to pay attention to the boxed articles throughout the book. You might learn the history of the barber pole and what the colors mean, or be directed to a web page with a video of how the heart works! If you want to know more, Stephanie has provided a very complete bibliography of books and web sites at the end.

If this is a selection you want to use with a class, I would suggest it as a hook to interest students in anatomy, human body functions, disease organisms, or history of biology. You could use a single selection to introduce a particular topic, or at the end of a unit for enrichment or extension.

If you want to know more about plagues, pandemics, and polio cures (and more), you can buy this book from the publisher, Prufrock Press, from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

Bearce, Stephanie. Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem. Waco, TX: Prufrock, 2017. Print.

ISBN-10: 1618215728 ISBN-13: 978-1618215727



MS-LS1-1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.

MS-LS1-3 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.

MS-LS1-8 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories.

Photo reprinted with permission of Prufrock Press, Inc.,


– Paula Young