Over the centuries, there have been amazing leaps in medical technology that have made healthcare procedures easier for both doctors and patients. It’s scary to think that there was actually a time when things like anesthesia and X-rays didn’t exist.
But long ago, medical workers used whatever means they had to heal people. Much of the time, there wasn’t even any actual medical evidence to support what they did.
Here are 20 peculiar cures that people from long ago actually thought worked. You’ll be shocked by most of them!
1. Treacle: Treacle was the term for a kind of medicine used by herbalists and apothecaries that was made from many different ingredients. It was syrupy in texture and very sweet. It was used to heal snake bites and reverse the effects of poisons; some people even claimed it completely cured the bubonic plague (or “Black Death”).
2. Crushed emeralds: This was a cure fit for royalty. Kings would apparently have their workers grind down emeralds in a mortar and pestle and mix the powder with water, which means they were essentially drinking powdered glass. You wouldn’t see any doctors prescribing this remedy today.
3. Urine baths: People in medieval Europe thought that bathing in urine two or three times a day would protect them from all sorts of ailments. Doctors even recommended that people ingest a couple glasses a day, as well. During the years when the plague ravaged the country, clean urine was bottled and sold to people in need.
4. Chicken rubs: This strange technique was invented by an English doctor named Thomas Vicary, and was often called the Vicary method. A hen’s back was shaved, and then its bare skin would be strapped to the infected part of the patient. Then, doctors would wait until either the chicken or the patient became completely healthy. As crazy as this sounds, it was actually very popular among medieval doctors, and still to this day there’s a special lecture held every year in Vicary’s honor at the Royal College of Surgeons in England.
5. Human excrement paste: This cure is absolutely horrifying to think about. A mixture of tree resin, flower roots and human excrement was applied to the inflamed lymph nodes of a plague victim, and then bandaged tightly. Even if their body stopped swelling, they more than likely developed another disease because of it.
6. Trepanation: This was the process of drilling a hole into someone’s skull. The local doctor or shaman would perform the procedure in an attempt to let evil spirits out of people who suffered from mental illnesses. Based on prehistoric cave drawings, trepanation is one of the oldest surgical procedures in the world.
7. Bloodletting: This was the act of cutting someone’s vein open and allowing a certain amount of blood to drain. Doctors believed our bodies needed to be in a constant state of balance so we could remain healthy. It was later discovered that bloodletting only helped with hypertension.
8. Hemorrhoid cauterizing: Modern technology handles severe cases of hemorrhoids using lasers and anesthesia, but medieval doctors didn’t have access to either of those things. They would use heated irons to burn the swollen veins. This was one of those procedures you hoped never happened to you.
9. Tobacco smoke enema: Medieval doctors based this procedure off of an old Native American practice of blowing smoke into the rear-end of anyone suffering from a cold, drowsiness or gut pain. Liquid tobacco enemas were also prescribed, as well. This lasted until the early 19th century, when doctors realized that nicotine was a poisonous substance.
10. Sympathy powder: This cure doesn’t really make too much sense. Instead of trying to heal a victim’s sword wound, the actual sword itself had a powder applied to it. People thought that if they applied the substance to the sword, the wound that it caused would also heal. Needless to say, it never did.
11. Snake oil: Chinese laborers who worked on the first transcontinental railroad introduced this to the Western world. People claimed rubbing snake oil on their bodies alleviated joint pains caused by arthritis.
12. Vin Mariani: A French chemist named Angelo Mariani decided to make a tonic using Bordeaux wine and leaves from a coca plant. It was marketed as an energy drink because of the effects from the plant. Many famous people throughout history drank this concoction including Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria, and the Czar of Russia.
13. Heroin cough syrup: It’s frightening to think that this highly addictive drug that has ruined so many lives was actually once prescribed to children suffering from tuberculosis. At first, patients reported that they felt much better, but after the addictive symptoms began to kick in, doctors realized they needed to take it off the market.
14. Mercury: Nowadays, we know just how poisonous mercury is, but years ago it was seen as an antiseptic and even an elixir of youth. Mercury was used up until the early 20th century as a cure for syphilis, as well.
15. Insulin coma therapy: This was an intense treatment that required doctors to inject massive doses of insulin into a patient to induce a coma that lasted up to several weeks. It was invented in 1927 by a psychiatrist named Manfred Sakel who believed it could cure mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
16. Dead mouse paste: This is a cure that you’ll never hear your dentist prescribe. In Ancient Egypt, toothaches were common because of the sandy environment; particles would get into food and cause enamel erosion. To prevent this, Egyptians made a thick paste out of dead mice and applied it to the infected areas of their mouths. Yuck!
17. Partial tongue removal: Also known as “hemiglossectomy,” this procedure was believed to help people who suffered from stutters. But, most of the patients who underwent the operation were never able to speak again.
18. Dwale: This was a very heavy anesthetic used on people who were about to undergo intense surgeries. It was made from bile, opium, lettuce, hemlock and bryony. The patient would fall into a deep sleep after ingestion, but often times they’d stop breathing, as well.
19. Metallic catheters: These were used to alleviate the blockage of urine from people that suffered from syphilis. Doctors inserted a long metal rod through the patient’s urethra and into their bladder. Ouch!
20. Inversion traction: This method was invented by the Greek physician Hippocrates, who is widely considered to be one of the most influential figures in the history of medicine. But, that didn’t mean that everything he said was accurate. Inversion traction was used for people who were suffering from spine and joint pain. However, this practice of hanging them upside down probably caused more of both.
After reading these, you should feel thankful that you don’t live in an era with such crude medical technology. Getting sick would be an entirely different experience!
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