- Written by Suzy Cohen Suzy Cohen
This month, I will explore the dark and disturbing history of medical treatments. While these methods may seem shocking and gruesome by today’s standards, they were once considered cutting-edge solutions.
As we delve into the past, it’s important to appreciate the progress we’ve made in medicine. Additionally, I’ll briefly speculate on current treatments we do today that may be viewed as primitive in the future. It’s scary to think about it.
Right now, let’s explore 10 fascinating and bizarre historical remedies and reflect on medicine’s hall of shame:
1. Bloodletting: Bloodletting, a widespread medical treatment in ancient and medieval times, aimed to restore balance by draining blood to rectify an imbalance of the four “humors.” Despite its popularity, bloodletting often led to infection and death.
2. Trepanation: Trepanation involved drilling holes into the skull to release evil spirits or pressure, with the intent of treating conditions like headaches and epilepsy. This risky procedure persisted until the 18th century.
3. Mercury: Mercury was once considered a universal remedy for various ailments, including syphilis and toothaches. However, its toxic nature caused severe side effects and contributed to neurological damage, as seen in hatters during the 19th century. “Mad hatter disease” resulted from the use of mercury to stiffen animal fur to make hats.
4. Tobacco smoke enemas: In the 18th century, tobacco smoke enemas were used to treat respiratory issues and even revive drowning victims. This practice, based on the belief that tobacco smoke could warm the body and stimulate respiration, proved ineffective and dangerous.
5. Lobotomies: Lobotomy, a procedure that severed connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, gained popularity in the 20th century as a treatment for severe mental illnesses. Despite its initial promise, it often resulted in severe side effects and has since fallen out of favor.
6. Animal-dung ointments: In ancient Egypt, animal dung was believed to possess healing properties and was used to treat various ailments. However, this unsanitary practice introduced harmful bacteria and worsened infections!
7. Mummy powder: Powdered mummies were used as a medical treatment in the belief that they possessed curative properties. This practice, which persisted for centuries, was not only ineffective, but also contributed to the destruction of historical artifacts.
8. Hemiglossectomy: During the 18th and 19th centuries, doctors believed that stuttering resulted from an unusually thick or long tongue. Hemiglossectomy, the removal of a portion of the tongue, was thought to cure the condition but often led to severe complications.
9. Strychnine: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, strychnine, a highly toxic alkaloid, was used as a stimulant and performance-enhancing substance. However, its poisonous effects posed significant risks to health.
10. Cocaine: Cocaine was once hailed as a miracle cure for various ailments and was widely used in medicine and everyday products. However, its addictive and dangerous nature eventually led to its decline and regulation.
While we can’t predict the future, some current medical practices might be considered primitive in years to come.
Chemotherapy’s nonselective nature, electroconvulsive therapy’s side effects, organ transplantation’s risks, and the necessity of amputations may one day be replaced by more targeted and advanced alternatives. We can only hope!
Reflecting on the past, it’s evident that our understanding of health and medicine has come a long way. These historical treatments serve as a reminder of the progress we’ve made and the importance of evolving our therapies so that they are less invasive and more effective.
This information is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or treat your disease. For more information about the author, visit suzycohen.com.