華佗 Hua Tuo and The Warlord 曹操 Cao Cao
f華佗 Hua Tuo believed that surgery was only an option for diseases that could not be cured with herbs, exercise, or acupuncture. During that time it was unimaginable for a physician to cut into someone’s body for treatment, so naturally Hua Tuo’s take on surgeries was considered unconventional. To alleviate the pain of the patients he operated on, 華佗Hua Tuo studied ancient methods, searched for herbs far and wide and experimented on anesthetic formulas on his own body. He developed an herbal formula called 麻沸散 Mafeisan, which he served to his patients with wine to strengthen the effects of the anesthetic prescription.
According to the Chinese Western Jin Dynasty’s account “Records of the Three Kingdoms: Biography of Hua Tuo”, in the end, the doctor’s popularity attracted the attention of a warlord named Cao Cao who summoned 華佗 Hua Tuo to help him with the migraines he was suffering from. Unlike other physicians, 華佗 Hua Tuo was successful at alleviating Cao Cao’s pain on most occasions. The doctor suggested a surgical intervention as he believed there was a tumor in Cao Cao’s brain.
The warlord refused to follow the recommendation as he thought 華佗 Hua Tuo was trying to assassinate him. Instead he insisted that 華佗 Hua Tuo became his personal physician and attend to all of his needs whenever necessary. 華佗 Hua Tuo continuously declined Cao Cao’s offer, which was more of a command, and as a result was thrown into prison.
華佗 Hua Tuo's Imprisonment & Death
Before he died in prison, 華佗 Hua Tuo wrote all of his clinical experience down and tried to give it to a prison guard for safe keeping. Out of fear of Cao, the guard refused to accept anything from 華佗 Hua Tuo. As one source sites, “In anger and frustration, 華佗 Hua Tuo burned his manuscripts, turning all of his clinical knowledge to ashes. After Hua Tuo died, he was buried next to a flowing river of clear water – symbolizing that he was cleared from all wrong-doing.”
In the end, Cao Cao learned his lesson the hard way. His son fell gravely ill shortly after 華佗 Hua Tuo’s death and there was not a physician in the land who could save the young man’s life.
華佗 Hua Tuo died around the age of 100, and it was said that he looked as spry as a young 60 year old. To this day talented doctors are referred to as “Hua Tuo reincarnated” 華佗再世 Huà Tuó zài shì, a testament to his undeniable contribution to Chinese Medicine.