Though we might think of resuscitation as being a purely modern phenomenon, there’s evidence that some of the concepts of resuscitation have been known for more than 1,000 years. Were some of the concepts of resuscitation known as early as during the time of Greek mythology, however? Dr. Ilias I. Siempos, Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, and colleagues from the First Department of Critical Care Medicine and Pulmonary Services, Evangelismos Hospital, University of Athens Medical School, Athens, Greece, and the Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital of Heraklion, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, reviewed three different compendia of Greek mythology to identify myths that might foreshadow modern resuscitation. The results of their analysis are published in this month’s issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia in the article titled “The Art of Providing Resuscitation in Greek Mythology.”
Though ancient Greeks believed that once an individual went to the Underworld (death) through the river Acheron, the individual could not return to the Upperworld (life), there were additional ways down to the Underworld that allowed for communication between the Upper (life) and Under (death) worlds. Individuals could be resuscitated with hands (perhaps basic life support), a kiss on the mouth (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), with burning torches (similar to external defibrillators), with drugs, or with physical stimulation. Using these myths as evidence that CPR was being used during the time of the ancient Greeks might only spring from an active imagination, yet we all hope that if medical practice is appropriately administered, a dying human might be restored to life. Perhaps, as the authors indicate, the exploration of means to resuscitate the dying human might be due to the feeling that resuscitation is achievable if the proper treatment is administered. Much has changed over time, though as these authors indicate, perhaps some things have not.