What’s the most shocking treatment in Western medicine today? Maggots to clean out a festering wound, perhaps? Sewing a limb inside a patient’s abdominal cavity to heal?
If you find the above revolting, thank whatever god you pray to that you’re living in the 21st century and not, say, the 1st.
If you were alive at that time and living in Mesopotamia, the doctors of the day were likely to diagnose your illness by….wait for it…examining the liver of a sacrificed sheep.
Makes sense, right? It’s like drawing blood. Except, it’s not your blood. And the drawee doesn’t make it through the procedure.
As crazy as it is, the “diagnosis via sheep liver” doesn’t even make our top 10. What does? Read on to find out.
Honorable mentions: (Disease/disorder – cure)
- Rheumatism – wear a donkey’s skin
- Gout – apply a poultice of: pig’s marrow, boiled herb, red-hair from a dog and worms
- Deafness – apply this paste inside ear: gall from a hare and grease from a fox
- Internal bleeding – wear a bag around your throat that contained a dried out toad
- Skin diseases and rashes: place a piece of wolf skin on the area
- Kidney stones: apply a hot poultice of honey and pigeon dung on the area
- Asthma: drink a brew made up from crushed human skull, crushed pig’s bone marrow, and sweat
10. Crocodile Dung Birth Control
Well, it’s sort of a remedy for pregnancy…
The following means of contraception is so wholly repulsive, it forced its way onto this list: dried crocodile feces inserted into the vagina.
How does this magical dose of prevention function? Well, theoretically, once the dung softened (ewwww!) it formed a barrier that would have put the Berlin Wall to shame.
To our female readers: Which would you rather have inside you: a fetus or crocodile sh*t?
9. Powder of Sympathy for Rapier Wounds
“Got stabbed? Try this.”
So read 17th-century billboards for Sir Kenelm Digby’s “Powder of Sympathy” (not really).
The magical particle mixture consisted of earthworms, pigs’ brains, iron oxide (yes, that’s rust), and an ingredient seemingly as prevalent as the Essence of Emeril in pre-modern medicine: powder made from mummified corpses.
Of course wounded swordfighters didn’t apply the powder to the wound; that would (sort of) make sense. Instead, the Powder of Sympathy was applied to the offending rapier and, (voila!) through the wonders of sympathetic magic, the wounded party was cured.
8. Surgically Implanted Goat Testicles for Impotence
If you’ve tried Viagra and the results weren’t what you expected, maybe you should consider having some goat testicles sewn into your scrotum to supplement your own pair?
“Doctor” John Brinkley (spoiler: he was a quack) pioneered the procedure in the early 1900s. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work and in a major blow to many patient’s libidos, they died.
7. Vibrators for Female Hysteria
Husbands: Next time your wife is having a hysterical outburst, hand her a vibrator and tell her it’s just what the doctor ordered.
No really. It was just what (some) doctors ordered near the end of the 19th century.
The so-called “electromechanical medical instrument” was recommended for the treatment of symptoms such as nervousness and insomnia and could be purchased from the Sears Roebuck catalog.
6. Ground-up Corpses for Headaches
As mentioned earlier, grinding up dead people and using them as medicine was a relatively (frighteningly) common practice across several cultures.
It seems that that the magical mummy powder was akin to Aleve or Tylenol today: a cure-all for minor ailments, thus the genesis for the saying: “Take some mummy powder and call me in the morning.”
5. Trepanning for Numerous Conditions
Have you heard the expression, “I need X like I need a hole in the head?” Well, apparently the saying doesn’t mean what it used to. Holes in the head were once quite desirable.
Thousands of years ago, primitive surgeons drilled holes in patients’ heads for the purpose of releasing evil spirits. Other forms of trepanning were reportedly used for relief of headaches and epilepsy.
4. Bloodletting for Numerous Conditions
The equation looks something like this:
- Disease = bad blood
- Getting rid of bad blood = good
- Patient – bad blood = cured
From the above, it’s pretty clear that all you need to do is drain some blood (No word on how the bad, rather than good blood was drained) and you’ll be full of vim and vigor in no time.
Blood letting was common in ancient Egypt and was reprised in medieval Europe, where the practice was thought to cure everything from sore throats to the plague.
However, as everyone knows that the plague was divine retribution, bloodletting was never going to get the job done…
3. A Red-Hot Poker in the Anus for Hemorrhoids
Obviously, you’ve heard of Preparation H, but have you heard of Preparation Red-Hot Poker in the A**?
In the Middle Ages, monks reportedly had two cures for hemorrhoids: praying to St. Fiacre, who was magically cured of the painful condition. If this failed, they resorted to inserting a poker in the anus of the afflicted party giving new meaning to “the cure is worse than this disease.”
By the Renaissance, this “treatment” had fallen out of favor.
2. Heroin for Coughs
How did the Victorians cure their coughs? With heroin of course!
Stories of cocaine in popular medicines (And even Coca Cola, of course) are widespread. However, tales of heroin in a cough suppressant solution are less prevalent.
Unlike most of the remedies on this list, this one actually works—that’s right, heroin does indeed suppress coughs.
So next time you’re hacking up a lung, remember that there are options beyond Halls…
1. Lobotomies for Numerous Psychiatric Conditions
The most disturbing thing about lobotomies—surgically removing part of the prefrontal cortex of a patient’s brain—is that they didn’t happen in ancient Egypt or even Victorian England: The lobotomy was a popular medical procedure in the United States as recently as the 1950s.
Indeed, an estimated 40,000 people had the equivalent of an ice pick jammed into their white matter to cure them of their psychic ills.
The results of this magical procedure? Incontinence, stupor, and what was referred to as a “surgically induced childhood” and an “infantile personality” in patients.
Sounds great, right?
Fortunately, by the 1970s the practice fell out of favor.