6 Strange Medical Treatments Doctors Thought Would Work
For 2,400 years, patients have believed that doctors were doing good; for 2,300 years, they were wrong, according to historian David Wootton, in Strange Medicine: A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices Through the Ages. Here, the recently published book reveals some wacky treatments once considered cutting-edge.
In ancient Egypt, a dead mouse was placed on the tooth of a person in dental distress. In ancient Rome, toothaches were treated by rubbing one’s mouth with a hippopotamus’s left tooth and eating the ashes of a wolf’s head, wrote Pliny the Elder.
One remedy from 13th-century surgeon Jehan Yperman: Smear the person with a paste of mercury, ashes, the spit of a child, and lard. We’re fairly certain that won’t work––check out 11 more outrageous folk remedies to steer clear of.
In 1880, the medical journal the Lancet published a letter from a doctor that hailed getting struck by lightning as a miracle cure. It cited the story of a farmer hit by a bolt that rendered him unconscious. When he awoke, his cancer was in remission. The writer predicted “frictional electricity” would be a “powerful therapeutic agent in the dispersion of cancerous formations.”
Nineteenth-century doctors prescribed the “blue pill” for many issues—even Abraham Lincoln was believed to have taken it for “melancholy.” No, it wasn’t Viagra. The pill contained mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Taken two or three times a day, it would have delivered a dose nearly 9,000 times today’s accepted levels. Check out 15 more bizarre ancient remedies you won’t believe actually existed.
After World War II, psychiatrists gave insulin to plunge a patient with mental illness into a coma and then brought him back. The insulin deprived the brain of fuel, which killed brain cells. This procedure supposedly reduced patients’ hostility and aggression. For more medical myth-busting, dig into these 55 rampant health myths that need to die.