What did bloodletters do with the blood they let?
April 6, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

What did the bloodletters of olden times do with the blood they collected? Presumably it was disposed of, but how?

A friend asked me this today, and I realised I had no idea. I've found detailed descriptions of pretty much every part of the bloodletting process except this one.
posted by Perodicticus potto to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Special phlebotomy vessels were used for capturing it (image) so that it could be measures since, according to Theory and practice of bloodletting this was still considered real science as late as 1915. Beyond that, the book (or a few others that I consulted) don't say.
posted by jessamyn at 3:31 PM on April 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

My initial gut reaction was that they probably didn't have any special means to dispose of it and thus didn't bother to record how it was disposed of. I have done some googling and can't find anything that indicates how they disposed of it. Most likely, blood was not viewed as something to be carefully disposed of like it is today.

Although not about medicinal bloodletting, this implies (to me) that historically there were no such standards:

Blood Disposal

Blood is a hazardous waste so its proper disposal after slaughter is important. While no halal requirements exist for the disposal of animal blood, any slaughter facility or independent operation must comply with legal regulations. In the United States, regulations vary between states, but most have a variation of the Dead Animal Disposal Act, which says that all parts of a slaughtered animal must be disposed of within 48 hours. Blood can be composted or buried as long as it does not contaminate water sources, or it can be brought to a local landfill that accepts animals.

There is another interesting snippet here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barber%27s_pole
The origin of the red and white barber pole is associated with the service of bloodletting and was historically a representation of bloody bandages wrapped around a pole.[2] During medieval times, barbers performed surgery on customers, as well as tooth extractions. The original pole had a brass wash basin at the top (representing the vessel in which leeches were kept) and bottom (representing the basin that received the blood). The pole itself represents the staff that the patient gripped during the procedure to encourage blood flow.
This also kind of implies to me that they didn't bother to take any special precautions, just tossed it along with "normal" refuse:
The procedure has changed over the centuries, with modern medicine and concerns about hygiene and infection.

Though, again, the piece does not really address the question.
posted by Michele in California at 4:03 PM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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