Wound Odor: The View from Ancient Greece

Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos
This post gives a preview of what I will be covering in my upcoming webinar entitled History of Pressure Ulcers & Wound Care: Past, Present, & Future, sponsored by the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.  The fascinating history of wound care dates back to the earliest human cultures, where prehistoric bones and cave paintings left hints of wound-healing knowledge.  A major problem associated with wounds is odor, a phenomenon recognized for millennia.  In today’s practice, when examining and documenting wounds, the standard of care requires noting the presence of odor.   Odor associated with a wound can result from necrotic tissue and metabolic by-products of certain bacteria.  Pseudomonas, for example, can yield a fruity scent, while anaerobic bacteria emit a foul smell.

Any chronic wound can emit odor, including pressure ulcers, and wounds associated with vascular disease and tumors.  Wound odor can cause psychological distress and lead to social isolation and depression in addition to morbidity associated with infection.  Many products and techniques are recommended to fight the odor of wounds, including topical and systemic antibiotics, debridement of dead tissue, and compounds containing silver or charcoal.

The phenomenon of wound odor was well documented in Classical Antiquity and writings of the ancient philosophers.  For example, one episode from the Iliad of Homer which took place in the 12th or 13th century BC concerns a malodorous wound.  Philoctetes was a Greek hero who set out to win the hand of Helen of Troy – the most beautiful woman in the world.  On the journey he suffered a wound to his foot which emitted such a foul odor that his fellow soldiers left him stranded on the island of Lemnos, where he remained for ten years.  Later, the Greeks realized they needed Philoctetes’ skills in battle to conquer Troy, and Odysseus sent a band of soldiers to retrieve him and help him to heal. The suffering of Philoctetes was dramatized in a play by Sophocles.

It is my belief that understanding history gives insight into principles we use every day in today’s practice. Indeed, some things that we think are new are actually thousands of years old. I hope you can join me in this webinar, to register please click on the link below.  Note that attendance is limited to 1000, so it’s best to sign up soon. If you cant make the date, or if the attendance is full, don’t worry as the webinar will be archived HERE on the NPUAP website.

Register for this webinar HERE.

View the NPUAP website.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Related posts:

Wound Healing Products: From Ancient to Modern Mythology
Wounds of a Boxer: Medical Secrets from Ancient Rome
Jean Martin Charcot’s Lecture on Pressure Ulcers: An Important Historical Document
World Wide Pressure Ulcer Prevention Day
Government Data Sheds Doubt Upon Pressure Ulcers as a Quality Indicator
Pressure Ulcer as “Never Event”: Fact or Myth?

 

Comments(0)

Leave a Comment

Dr. Jeffrey M. Levine has authored numerous articles on topics related to healthcare of the elderly. These include medical history, prevention and treatment of chronic wounds such as pressure ulcers, elder neglect and abuse, and physical restraints. He has also edited a book on legal and regulatory aspects of nursing homes.