St. Valentine was a Physician

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Valentine’s day, in all its Hallmark grandeur, with its expressions of romantic love, does not, at first glance, seem to be in the realm of medicine. Yes, there have been medical conferences in February that have discussed the origins of heartache. This seems, at best, goofy, and at worst, an embarrassingly awkward waste of time from poorly humored medical professionals. Then, through my extensive further research, done through Google (of course), I have come across two interesting connections between St. Valentine and the science of Aesculapius.

It turns out that St. Valentine (at least one of them) was a physician in addition to being a secret priest. He met his untimely death on February 14th, 269 C.E. at the hands of the Roman emperor Claudius II for practicing his religion. According to legend, before his execution he handed a note to the executioner’s daughter, which was entitled, “From your Valentine”. Imagine my surprise and shock when I learned that the origin of this romantic holiday comes from a doc. The daily jobs of physicians today don’t involve much romance. This search engine for jobs doesn’t Think gross anatomy, surgery, and rectal exams. However some sites find ways to be romantic in such a profession. One would think that it does not exactly lead the physician to thoughts of flowers, intimate embraces, and exclamations of endless love. But here it is, in historical (almost) fact.

The second interesting item about St. Valentine is that he is the patron saint of the epileptic. Epilepsy, apparently, was once known as “Valentine’s sickness”. As you can imagine, in the pre-scientific Middle Ages, people with seizure disorders were avoided and feared. Our lover boy, St. Valentine, however, looked out for these hapless folks. He, alas, was not the discoverer of anti-seizure medications such as Dilantin or Phenobarbital, so I don’t know how much he could have been beyond giving solace to the ill. Come to think of it, though, beyond prescribing plant extracts and bleeding patients, solace was about the best thing a physician could provide in those days.

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