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13 Bizarre Historical Medical Treatments

Historic medical treatments

Medical history is filled with stories of curious formulations, outlandish remedies, and strange cures. There are stories of hilarious medical ineptitude, and in all fairness, the medical practices that are prevalent today will be similarly snorted at 100 years down the road. From using dead mouse paste for pain relief to storing farts in a jar to prevent plague, we bring you 13 such outlandish medical treatments that might sound bizarre but are fascinating at the same time.

1. Dead mouse paste for toothaches

In ancient Egypt, doctors used to smash and blend a dead mouse with other ingredients and put this paste right onto the aching tooth or the swollen gum to relieve pain.

Dead mouse, Medicine in ancient Egypt
Image credit: Piberyger/wikimedia, Image source: www.cac.es

If you had suffered from a toothache in ancient Egypt, mice would have been the best answer to your ailment. Toothaches were very common in Egypt due to the presence of sand particles in their diet.

Sand would get into almost everything, including food. Because of the gritty effect of sand, chewing it would often wear down the enamel that covers the tooth. This, in turn, would expose the nerves and blood vessels leading to the pain.

Apparently, Egyptians came to the conclusion that dead mice were an effective remedy for this issue. They would mash the dead mice into a paste and apply it directly to the afflicted area. In case people had serious toothaches, whole dead mice would be directly inserted into their mouth. This treatment even expanded to rural England in the 1920s.

Obviously, this treatment never worked in curing the pain but led to even more serious problems. Applying rotting objects to exposed blood vessels and nerves would surely turn a tiresome pain into a full-blown infection. (source)

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2. Goat testicles to cure male impotence

In the 1920s, transplantation of goat or other primate testicles into men was considered a “cure” for erectile dysfunction and aging. John Brinkley, a con artist, became very rich by performing this bizarre surgery.

Serge Voronoff, John R. Brinkley
Image credits: George Grantham Bain/wikimedia, Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records/wikimedia

Serge Voronoff, a Russian-born doctor, was one of the first to conduct xenotransplantation using primate organs. Between 1920 and 1940, more than 45 surgeons used Voronoff’s techniques, and some 2,000 xenotransplants from non-human to human primates were carried out.

Even famous personalities, such as Frank Klaus, a well-known middleweight boxer, had this bizarre surgery. Surprisingly, positive and encouraging results were reported from around the world.

There was a second person named John R. Brinkley who fraudulently claimed to be a medical doctor and conducted similar surgeries. He was famous for transplanting goat testicles into humans. Apparently, this made him one of the richest men in America. (1,2)

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3. Dog poop to cure sore throats

In the middle ages, Album græcum, commonly known as “dog poop,” was a popular treatment for a sore throat. It was mixed with honey to treat inflammations of the throat. Externally, it was used as a plaster and spread on the skin to close and heal wounds.

Album Græcum, Sore throat
Image credit: Frank C. Müller via piratesurgeon.com, Image source: sandesh.com

Album græcum is the dung of dogs or hyenas that has become white through exposure to air. In the middle ages, roughly between 1721 and 1746, this was a common form of medication for a sore throat. The dried poop was crushed into a powder and mixed with honey.

The effectiveness of this medicine is not known, but the risk of consuming it would surely outweigh the potential benefits.(1,2)

4. Bat’s blood and hot broken glass to cure eye diseases

In ancient Egypt, eye infections were treated by dripping bat blood into the patient’s eyes. Moreover, if the patient had a cataract, then hot, broken glass was poured directly into the eyes.

Eye disease cure
Image credit: James Heilman/Wikimedia, Oasalehm/Wikimedia

Insufferable heat, sandstorms, allergies, and stone grits in the air were responsible for numerous eye infections in ancient Egypt. So, the doctors at that time resorted to the use of bat’s blood for any issues relating to eyesight. Apparently, they believed that since bats have excellent night vision, transferring their blood to people’s eyes would give them proper sightedness.

Moreover, according to the book Strange Medicine: A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages by Nathan Belofsky, hot, broken pieces of glass were poured into the eyes of people suffering from cataracts. (1,2)

5. Red hot iron to heal hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids were treated by cutting them out with a razor and then cauterizing them with a hot iron. Hippocrates’s book On Hemorrhoids says: “…burn so as to leave none of the hemorrhoids un-burnt, for you should burn them all up.”

operation to remove hemorrhoids
Image source: wikimedia

In ancient Greece, hemorrhoids must have been a commonly occurring problem because the Greeks often wrote about them. Hippocrates, in his book On Hemorrhoids, aptly describes his approach to treating hemorrhoids, no matter how painful that could be:

“I recommend seven or eight small pieces of iron to be prepared, a fathom in size…Having laid him on his back..burn so as to leave none of the hemorrhoids un-burnt, for you should burn them all up…When the cautery is applied the patient’s head and hands should be held so that he may not stir, but he himself should cry out…[S]meared with honey and applied; the sponge is to be pushed as far up as possible.”(1,2)

6. Eating corpses as medicines for all ailments

In the 16th and 17th centuries, many Europeans, including royalty, priests, and scientists routinely ingested remedies containing human bones, blood, and fat from corpses as medicine for everything from headaches to epilepsy.

Eating corpses
Image credit: Theodor de Bry/wikimedia

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, mummies and other preserved and fresh human remains were a common ingredient in European medicine.

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Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture by Noble and Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians by Richard Sugg point out that such medicines, containing human flesh, bones, and blood, were used to cure almost every disease.

Skull was one common ingredient, taken in powdered form to cure head ailments. Human fat was used to treat wounds on the body.

Another legendary medicinal substance was created by steeping a human cadaver in honey. It was called “Mellified Man.” Many elderly men, nearing the end of their lives, would submit themselves to a process of mummification in honey to create a healing confection.

They would eat and bathe in honey, and once they are dead, their bodies are placed in a stone coffin filled with honey. After a century or so, the contents would have turned into a sort of confection that was said to heal ailments. This confection would then be sold in street markets for a hefty price.(1,2)

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7. Maggots to clean out wounds

Maggots (fly larvae) have been used since antiquity for wound treatment. They eat the dead tissue and clean out the wound. In a survey in 2013, 10% of US Army doctors still use maggot therapy.

Maggots
Image source: blogs.brighton.ac.uk, Image credit: Photo courtesy of Monarch Labs; Irvine, CA via livescience.com

Maggots have been used to treat wounds since time immemorial. There are reports indicating that Maya Native Americans and Aboriginal tribes in Australia used maggots in their treatment. It was also prevalent during the Renaissance era.

During World War I, physicians noticed that soldiers whose wounds were infested by maggots had no fever or other signs of infection and survived their injuries which normally would have been fatal.

Maggots work by munching on rotting flesh, leaving healthy tissue practically unscathed.

In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted permission to produce and market maggots for use in humans or animals as a prescription-only medical device.(source)

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