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Friday, May 1, 2015

9 B.C.: The first mouth to mouth respirations

This painting from the early 1920s depicts Elisha after
he gave mouth to mouth breaths to revive a Shunamite boy
Mouth-to-mouth breathing was a technique that must have been trialed from time to time by ancient physicians as a last ditch effort to save a life. When it was first attempted will forever remain a mystery, although the first known description of it appeared in the Bible in the Second Book of Kings.

Elisha was born in 9 B.C. When he was a young man he met the prophet Elijah and became his faithful disciple. Elijah at this time was a very old man: he was something like 841 or 821 years old according to the Bible.  

While still a young man he observed his master lifted up to Heaven in a fiery chariot, and he said, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel...!"  At that moment he stripped off his clothes and declared that he was the successor of Elijah, and his job was to spread the word of the Lord.

The Bible described him as performing many miracles through the guidance of the Hebrew God.  In the Second Book of Kings he is described as successfully resuscitating (or reanimating) the child of a Shunamite woman with mouth to mouth breathing:
And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. (II Kings 4: 34-5)
The depiction here may have been the first recorded use of mouth to mouth breathing. This would entail the physician, in this case the prophet Elisha, placing his mouth over the child's mouth and nose, and exhaling. This would force a positive pressure breath into the child's air passages, thus providing the child with an artificial breath. This procedure may have been performed, albeit rarely, in both the ancient and primitive worlds.  (1)

This scene is estimated to have appeared during the 8th century before the birth of Christ. It is highly likely the procedure was learned by Elisha while he was in training, as most learned individuals of this time were educated in all knowledge of the day, including medical wisdom. So it is highly likely the procedure was tried before in a last ditch effort to save a life.

  1. Price, J.L., "The Evolution of Breathing Machines," Medical History, 1962, January, 6(1), pages 67-72; Price references The Bible, Kings, 4: 34
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