Be happy for advances in technology if only for the fact that they have saved you from enduring some of the more gruesome medical treatments in history. These procedures, although sometimes effective, were more akin to Inquisitorial torture tactics than traditional lifesaving methods.
Although amputation is still a last-ditch effort today, sacrificing one extremity to save the rest of the body, in anicent times, especially the American Civil War, it was the first, and only, line of defense against fatal infection. While master surgeons in this day and age are able to skillfully clear the infected bone or muscle from one’s body with minimal pain or scarring, our bearded forefathers were not as lucky.
The staggering amount of wounded requiring amputation and the general lack of water in each army’s camps meant that the imposing bone saws were usually unwashed between surgeries. A book on field surgery practices, by Samuel Cooper, which dates back to the Civil War, recommends that: “”as little of the flesh should be cut away, as possible; but the more bone is removed, the better.”
Bloodletting is one of the first documented, and most counter-intuitive, of medical procedures in the world. It seems to some that the object of medicine is to keep as much blood as possible in your body, thereby helping one to, you know, live. Bloodletting has a different goal. It was believed that blood was not recycled, and so old or stale blood would cause negative healthful effects, and it had to be removed somehow. Hippocrates (an ancient Greek philosopher) believed that women achieved the purging of their used up blood through menstruation, and so invented a system of bloodletting to even the score (“anything you can do, I can do better.”)
Although it was never proven as an effective measure against any diseases, it was still used as a panacea to treat almost every disease in the medical books leading up to the 180’0’s. There were many methods of bloodletting, including a simple incision that would be squeezed to release blood, but the most blood curdling on them all included the use of leeches. These slimy little suckers have a taste for human blood and can chug more than a frat boy at Spring Break. Often dozens were attached to an afflicted person, sucking away until he was almost bled dry.
Apparently you do not have to be abducted by aliens to have a hole drilled into your head. Who knew? Trepanning is also an extremely dated medical practice; evidence of such procedures has been found in skulls of neolithic origin, but whether these were signs of an attempt at healing or the result of a good old fashioned rock fight is still unclear.
Consequently, two of the pioneers of medical trepanning were the same two who helped bloodletting reach mass popularity. Although it seems gratuitous and downright foolish, evidence has shown that trepanning may have been successful. Seven of eight trepanned skulls found in Germany showed signs of healing and that the patient had survived.
Nasal Brain Removal
We couldn’t find a more detailed picture for this procedure. But even if we had, would you really want to see it? Ancient Egyptians, in the process of mummification, would attempt to remove the brain from the body. To start, with all due respect to the deceased, the embalmers would ram a sharper instrument up into the nasal cavity of the corpse in order to break the bone separating the nasal cavity from the brain cavity. Next, using one of the hooks depicted above, they would stir the brain vigorously until it began to liquefy. Then they would simply flip the cadaver over and let the now liquefied brain spill out of his nostrils and onto the floor. My apologies if you have a hard time eating tomato soup after this.
The lobotomy is a procedure which, frighteningly enough, was still utilized until the 1960’s. This procedure requires severing the connections between the prefrontal cortex to the rest of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is believed to be responsible for the operation of complex behaviors, decision making, expression of personality and emotion, and social aptitude. It was believed that severing this connection would render someone suffering from a severe psychological condition (i.e bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) unable to harm themselves or others as it would level out their emotions. The lobotomy, although controversial, was successful in achieving this goal, although it would leave patient’s in a dull, emotionless, Keanu Reeves-like state permanently.
Medical breakthroughs are designed to make even the most drastic procedures quick and painless, although that was not always the case. So the next time you are whining about having to get a shot or give a tiny blood sample, remember that there are far worse alternatives.