Wicked sick!: Dive into ‘Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem’

Ugh, your kid has been feeling kind of sick. While he’s recuperating, give him “Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem” to read, and he’ll feel happy that he didn’t live in ancient times.

Long ago, before hospitals and doctors, ancient people didn’t know about germs or microbes, writes author Stephanie Bearce. They thought evil spirits or curses brought illness, so they treated patients with things that were sometimes disgusting. Even so, folks often died of ailments that your modern kid would hardly notice.

Says Bearce, “it took thousands of years of trial and error” before scientists and doctors figured out how to use some of the medicines we have now. In the meantime, a bad tooth, skinned knee, or finger cut could kill a person. To avoid the worst, ancient docs devised tools to bore holes into skulls; Egyptians relied on amulets and mouse paste (which is just what it sounds like); Native Americans used tobacco as medicine; and Roman physicians sometimes gave their patients clay to eat for whatever ailed them. Yuck!

Treatment was often worse than the illness, and some “cures” were really strange.

Legend says that men in Arabia sometimes volunteered to “go on a diet of only honey.” After they died, they literally became medicine. Animal poop was often used as medicine, too, especially when mixed with other things.

Slowly though, we humans learned a thing or two. Studying dead bodies taught early doctors about muscles, blood, and bones. Some folklore and folk cures turned out to be correct. Laboratory work and the invention of microscopes proved that fungus, germs, bacteria, and disease were real. Vaccines were developed to avoid further sickness, and we learned how to avoid getting sick in the first place.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer — there’s not a lot of mayhem inside it. But that’s okay. Author Bearce adds enough disgusting-but-fascinating chapters to satisfy any kid who’s looking for those things. Kids will get a good overview of how far we’ve come, and, for the extra-curious, there’s a great bibliography in the back for further research.

While it’s absolutely not for the squeamish, the 9- to 14-year-old with an inquisitive mind and interest in history will love every page. He’ll say that “Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem” is wicked sick.

“Twisted True Tales from Science: Medical Mayhem,” by Stephanie Bearce [160 pages, 2017, $8.95].

Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.