From leeches on your privates to holes drilled into skulls to release demons, we count twelve of the worst doctor cures throughout history!
12 – Bloodletting and Leeches,
- Bloodletting was a common medical procedure prior to the Nineteenth Century. It involved flushing out bad ‘humors’, which are black and yellow bile, blood and phlegm. In the Middle Ages you could get this done by your local barber-surgeon right after a haircut and some light dentistry work.
- Several bloodletting methods involved drawing blood from veins and arteries using barbaric tools, but leeches were the most popular method. The French were particularly mad for this; during the 1800s, they went through forty million leeches a year. They attached them to patients’ arms, legs, torso and other more sensitive areas.
- Leeches were tied to a silk thread, lowered down a person’s throat and reeled in like a fish. They were also applied to women’s vaginas to relieve uterine disease, sexual excitement and general ‘hysteria’. British gentry had their wives leeched every two weeks.
- Sometimes leeches wound up lost inside female patients, which certainly didn’t help with the old ‘hysteria’. However, doctors in these cases didn’t sweat it because they were sure the leech would ‘find its way out eventually’.
11 – Mercury Poisoning,
- The silvery liquid Mercury was once used to treat everything from scraped knees to constipation. Its side effects were indistinguishable from the symptoms of syphilis, which it was commonly used to treat.
- We now know it’s extremely toxic and that mercury poisoning comes with a laundry list of symptoms. These can include chest pains, heart and lung problems, tremors, muscle spasms and psychotic reactions like delirium, hallucinations and suicidal tendencies.
- Find a new high, kids. Mercury can kill you!
10 – Trepanation,
- Trepanation is a treatment for mental illness that began 7,000 years ago. It involved making a hole in the skull using an auger, bore, or saw to relieve headaches, mental illness, or even demonic possession.
- With no knowledge of brain chemistry, ancient doctors believed the mentally ill had literal demons living inside their heads, so holes were drilled into patients’ skulls to allow these spirits to escape. The horrifying thing is that anaesthetics weren’t used in a lot of these cases.
- The practice still goes on today for a small number of strange and misguided folks. These days a single small hole is sometimes made in the skull to treat brain haemorrhaging after severe head trauma.
9 – Impotence Shock Therapy,
- Impotence is one of the most embarrassing problems a man can face … or so I hear. Throughout history, men with uncooperative little guys have searched desperately for something that can cure their bedroom woes.
- With the late Nineteenth Century invention of electricity, men and their frustrated wives hoped the new technology could take them straight to Boner Town. Doctors devised a range of devices and products designed to get penises to stand to attention. These included electrified beds and complicated ‘cock-shocking’ electric belts. Just the thing to set the mood!
- Other strange treatments for erectile dysfunction have included testicle implants, radium suppositories, ingesting Spanish Flies, drinking frog juice and stimulating blood flow with wasp stings and spider venom.
8 – Female Hysteria Treatments,
- According to Nineteenth Century doctors, female moodiness is a symptom of a very serious medical condition called female hysteria.
- Any woman who displayed symptoms like nervousness, chattiness, unwillingness to talk, irritability, or disobedience towards their supreme overlord Victorian husbands was ordered to have a doctor-administered vaginal massage until their hysteria subsided. You’re right – the Nineteenth Century’s idea of treatment does sound suspiciously like molestation!
- The list of symptoms for female hysteria was so long that literally any ailment could fit its diagnosis. Doctors eventually invented the vibrator to alleviate hand strain.
7 – Pain and Rotational Therapies,
- As the Treasurer of the Mint, signer of the Declaration of Independence and author of various medical textbooks, Benjamin Rush was America’s most beloved, trusted doctor.
- His biggest contribution was in the area of psychiatry. Rush believed pain and suffering had curative powers, so patients paid him actual money to beat, starve and verbally abuse them – all in the name of medical science! His torturous practices also included pouring acid on their backs, cutting them with knives and keeping wounds open for months or even years to encourage ‘permanent discharge from the brain’.
- Rush also believed mental illness was caused by poor circulation to the brain, so devised something called rotational therapy, where patients were twirled from ropes suspended from the ceiling for hours at a time. He was one sick creative bastard.
6 – Cocaine Cures,
- Cocaine is a symbol of Eighties excess, but it may surprise you to learn that it was originally used medicinally.
- In 1884, Austrian ophthalmologist Carl Koller somehow discovered that placing cocaine on a patient’s cornea temporarily desensitised the eye to pain, making eye surgery less risky.
- When word of his discovery spread, doctors realised that cocaine could be used as an anaesthetic for all kinds of procedures. Sceptics were initially concerned about the drug’s addictiveness, but doctors scoffed, claiming it was no more addictive than tea or coffee.
- By 1900, Americans could walk into any pharmacy and purchase a gram of pure cocaine for twenty-five cents. The drug was mixed into everything from wines to soft drinks to cigars. Companies offered hypodermic needles kits so patients could inject themselves from the comfort of their own homes.
- Cocaine was additionally prescribed for haemorrhoids, indigestion, appetite suppression, fatigue, shyness and toothaches. Even kids got in on the craze until, by 1902, upwards of 200,000 Americans were addicted. The addiction became an epidemic, and states and local governments were forced to intervene. Good times.