St. Patrick’s Day, Snakes and Hemophilia

Snakes show up in Irish history for one important reason: legend has it that St. Patrick (who was not a legend but a real person) banished snakes from the island. It’s a myth but in keeping with the idea of snakes as evil.

Snakes do get a bad rap, starting with Genesis in the Bible—he’s the Devil in disguise, and encourages Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat fruit from the tree of wisdom, and we all know how that went. That theme is continued in Exodus, when Moses and his brother Aaron use their staffs in a competition with Pharaoh’s magicians. They each turn their staffs into snakes, and Aaron wins when his snake devours the others.

Staffs and snakes go together importantly in medical history—for healing. In fact, the use of snakes as a medical image dates back to 1400 BC. The Caduceus is a symbol of Hermes (Greek) or Mercury (Roman) in mythology. The Caduceus is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. Mercury was the god of speed—that’s why our planet with the shortest (think fastest) orbit around the sun is named Mercury. It only takes the planet 88 days to orbit, compared to earth’s 365 days.

The Rod of Asclepius belongs to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing. The American Medical Association started using the staff of Aesculapius as its symbol in 1910. The Royal Army Medical Corp, French Military Service, and other medical organizations had done the same. Even today organizations like the World Health Organization use the staff of Aesculapius in them. 

You may even find it or the Caduceus on your child’s medic alert bracelet. It’s a universal symbol of a medical condition. And the funny thing is, certain snake venom has been shown to clot blood in some cases!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, even if you are not Irish, and make sure to wear a medical ID when celebrating—and every day.

A welcome visitor in my backyard

Leave a Comment

HemaBlog Archives