In the olden days, when people got sick they’d call a doctor, who would come over and examine the patient and just have no idea what to do. All science was basically a mystery at that point. After telling the patient their humors were out of balance or some other wackadoodle sh*t, they’d try some horrifying procedure that would make a modern doctor’s Hippocratic Oath fall off. Here are eight crazy old-timey procedures people actually used to think work.
1) Blood letting
Old-timey people thought you could have too much blood in your body, and it wasn’t leaving enough room for other important things like bile and diarrhea. That’s for real. So then they’d drain out some of your blood (the stuff that flows in your veins and keeps you alive), congratulate themselves on a job well done as you grew woozy and weak, and go on to the next patient.
One method of blood-letting involved using leeches, which are creepy-ass blood-sucking water worms. Leeching was popular in ancient India, Greece, Europe, and North America until the 1800s. While ancient leeching was pretty much useless, seeing as having too much blood isn’t an actual medical problem, there’s an interesting plot twist — leeches have made a comeback! Leeches are now sometimes used to kickstart bloodflow after vascular surgery. Leeches — helpful, but still gross.
Lobotomies were a popular medical procedure in the 1940s and ’50s, used to treat seizures, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. All you had to do was stick a giant spike in your eye and push it backwards to damage the connections to your frontal cortex. As you might imagine, this ended up being horrible, causing terrible brain damage, leaving the patient incontinent and in a state of what was called “medically induced childhood”. Tens or hundreds of thousands of people were lobotomized worldwide until the ‘50s, when people realized that sticking a spike into your brain willy-nilly is not great medicine.
Trepanning involves cutting holes in your skull so that the evil spirits making you sick can come out. It’s been used since caveman times for maladies like headaches and migraines, which is ironic because I feel like cutting holes in your skull without anesthesia would not be exactly comfortable. Doctors do still drill holes in people’s skulls on occasion, but it’s usually to release pressure from internal bleeding, not internal bad spirits.
5) Vibrators for hysteria
Victorian-Era women were diagnosed with “hysteria” when they were moody, opinionated, and didn’t listen to their husbands. For real, old-timey Victorian dudes couldn’t figure out why any woman wouldn’t want to be stuck in the house all day with no education or autonomy and figured that such a lady must have a mental disease. Their idea of a cure was to stimulate the woman with a metal vibrator. I don’t know that I can go into more detail than that on Smosh but this is 100 percent real and googleable.
6) Eating mummy powder
Starting around the 1200s in what is Egypt today, people started grinding up Ancient Egyptian mummies into mummy powder and using it as a cure-all tonic. They’d rub some mummy powder on their boo-boos, or eat some mummy powder if they weren’t feeling good. The Arabs who settled in Egypt weren’t descendants of the Ancient Egyptians so I guess they figured it wasn’t that creepy to eat dead people dust if they weren’t related to those dead people. I happen to disagree.
7) Using corpses as medicine
It turns out mummies weren’t the only dead people used for medicine — in Ancient Rome, the blood of dead gladiators was used to treat epilepsy. Feces were applied to sores in Europe in the Middle Ages, which, come on, is clearly a horrible idea. In 1500s China, a medical text describes using the bodies of people mummified in honey as medicine. Before mummification, the old men voluntarily giving their bodies to science only ate honey until their poop and pee came out all honey, which of course killed them. God almighty, old-timey people were nasty.
8) Sugar coma for schizophrenia
In order to treat schizophrenics in the 1940s, doctors would send patients into a purposeful insulin coma and wake them back up with a glucose injection. The procedure would often chill the patients out… on account of the brain damage. It really seems like doctors in the old days didn’t know the difference between health and brain damage.
We’re probably doing some batsh*t crazy medical procedures now and in a couple hundred years another Smosh writer will do an update laughing at how dumb we are. Did I miss any crazy old-timey medical procedures that creep you out? Let me know on Twitter @erikaheidewald!