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Arm rest for use by a patient during blood letting, England, 1601-1700

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This highly decorative oak stand and arm rest was used to support a patient’s arm during bloodletting – a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. The stand is adjustable, possibly to cater for people of different height but also to help regulate the flow of blood. Once the vein was open gravity would do the rest. The arm rest is carved with two bloodletting scenes. On one side a man is having blood let from his chest. On the other side a patient is being bled from the arm, a doctor holding the upper arm while his assistant, a young boy, is holding a bleeding bowl to collect the blood.

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Glossary: armrest

A support for the arm.

Glossary: bloodletting

Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.

Glossary: bleeding bowl

A shallow bowl four to six inches in diameter, with one flat handle which is usually flush with the rim. Used by barber-surgeons in the 1600s and 1700s when bleeding a patient.