©Wellcome Library, London

A busy surgery in which a woman has blood taken from a vein in her arm. Galen believed in blood-letting not only when a patient was ill but as prophylaxis against sickness, particularly fevers. The timing and amount of blood taken depended on the patient's age and constitution, the season of the year, the weather and the place. For severe illness, he recommended bleeding twice a day; the first should be stopped before the patient fainted, but the second could be taken to unconsciousness. The French physician, FJV Broussais (1772-1838), bled patients with leeches, using 50 at a time to remove up to 3 litres in cases of pneumonia. During succeeding centuries, people often consulted a surgeon for an annual spring ‘bleed' much as the health conscious of today might have a yearly check-up.

Oil painting by Egbert van Heemskerck the elder (1610-1680) or younger (c. 1634-1704).