The 6 Most Bizarre Medical Hoaxes People Actually Believed

#3. The Coma Man

As a young man, Rom Houben was in a car accident that left him paralyzed and comatose. He lay in bed day after day, responding to no one. In 2006, doctors performed a brain scan and made a horrifying discovery: Houben is most likely suffering from "locked-in syndrome," completely paralyzed but entirely conscious.


"Oh, God, if there are any telepaths out there, please scratch my balls."

Houben made international headlines when, with the help of a therapist, he began communicating through a computer. He was interviewed by numerous news agencies. Soon, he was at the center of the heated debate over keeping vegetative patients alive.


There's nothing sick people like more than lengthy debate!

There was just one small problem -- it was complete bullshit. Houben's therapist was using a method called "facilitated communication," where in theory, nonverbal patients can type or write while a therapist supports their arm and hand. FC became hugely popular in the early 90s among parents desperate to communicate with their kids on the autism spectrum. But study after study revealed that it was actually the therapists speaking for the patients. When coma patients were shown pictures that their "facilitators" couldn't see, the method suddenly stopped working. Predictably, Houben failed similar tests.

The "mystery" of facilitated communication lies in something called the ideomotor effect. This is an unconscious tendency to indicate or influence a response based on one's own expectations. The best example of this is what happens when you use a Ouija board. People don't know that they're influencing the "messages" they receive from beyond. Still, when we stand to gain, many of us are willing to believe almost anything.


This is how dead people choose to communicate.

#2. The Oddfather

Beginning in the 1960s, Vinnie "The Chin" Gigante rose quickly through the ranks of the Genovese crime family, finally being named boss in 1981. Mob bosses are notorious for evading conviction on the grounds that they're too scary to testify against, but Gigante decided on a different approach. In 1969, he began acting strangely -- puttering up and down his street in his robe and slippers, having heated conversations with no one in particular, and pissing on himself for good measure.


Basically, his whole life was your freshman year of college.

Granted, convincing people that you're nuts isn't exactly rocket science. The really unbelievable thing about Gigante is that he played the part of a total lunatic for over 30 years. Every day, even when he wasn't under indictment, he'd roam around Greenwich Village, sometimes smoking discarded cigarettes. Then he'd top his day off with a friendly pinochle game between mobsters. As if this facade wasn't enough, he also committed himself to the hospital 22 times between 1969 and 1990. With the help of his mother, who claimed that his IQ was around 69, Gigante managed to convince the public, as well as several judges, that he was unfit to stand trial by reason of total crazypantsiosity.


Pictured: The insanity defense.

Gigante's ruse was so convincing that he was declared crazy by several prominent psychiatrists, including those hired by prosecutors. At different times, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, dementia and psychosis. His antics allowed him to delay his trial for racketeering charges for seven years. When he was finally convicted in 1997, Gigante continued acting like a nutcase to hide the fact that he was still running the Genovese crime family from the inside of his prison cell.

It wasn't until he was 75 that he finally admitted it was all just a big con, and we presume this played out exactly like the final scene in The Usual Suspects, as The Chin abandoned his crazy-walk in midstride, lit up a cigarette and strutted away.


For real, though. Are we the only ones who think his chin is actually pretty normal-sized?

#1. The Vaccine Victim

At 25, Desiree Jennings was a successful marketer who was married to a handsome man and served as a cheerleading ambassador for the Washington Redskins. But Jennings became famous in 2009, amid the swine flu scare, when she began exhibiting disturbing symptoms after a flu shot. In days, Jennings dissolved into a helpless woman prone to muscle spasms, slurred speech and difficulty walking. Jennings claimed she had been diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological condition, and that it was caused by the vaccine.

Videos of Jennings on YouTube went viral, and though there was some jeering about "Wobblegirl," the response was mostly sympathetic, because even the Internet had trouble justifying making fun of her.


Not that they held back from posting sexual proposals or links to Loose Change in the comments section.

People began to shy away from the flu shot after seeing Jennings interviewed on Inside Edition. However, neurologists examining the videos began to question her diagnosis. Jennings' symptoms appeared to be different every day and weren't in keeping with a true dystonia condition.

The resulting controversy saw Jennings become a poster girl for the anti-vaccine movement. Generation Rescue, an organization run by neurologist actress Jenny McCarthy, rallied in support of Jennings' cause. Meanwhile, Jennings went to see Dr. Rashid Buttar, who specializes in alternative "treatments" such as hyperbaric chambers, heavy-metal chelation and injections of a patient's own urine.


Hold still.

Within a few days, Jennings posted a video showing that she'd made remarkable progress and was speaking normally. Despite Buttar's claims to have cured Jennings, her recovery seemed to confirm skeptics' criticisms, since dystonia is an incurable condition.

Ironically, after Generation Rescue challenged journalists to review dystonia claims in the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System (VAERS), journalists did exactly that and found Jennings' VAERS report, which did not show a dystonia diagnosis at all but rather that the neurologist she saw believed that her condition had a "strong psychogenic component."


In other words, her own brain had more to do with her issues than any vaccine.

In the end, Inside Edition did a follow-up piece, observing Jennings walking normally, going shopping and even driving. When confronted by a reporter, Jennings suddenly began displaying symptoms again, walking sideways and speaking in an Australian accent, which she said was the result of an "inability to pronounce words." The interview ended when Jennings got into her car, giggled and asked the reporter not to film her because "I don't think I'm supposed to be driving." She suddenly had no accent.

While it's unclear whether Jennings faked her symptoms or simply suffers from a delusion, either way, getting a flu shot probably won't turn you into a Wobblegirl, and even if it does, you shouldn't try to cure it by injecting yourself with your own pee.

For more medical mischievousness, check out 8 Medical Terms Your Doctor Uses to Insult You and The 10 Most Insane Medical Practices in History.

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