10 Old-Timey Medical Treatments Inspired by Your Nightmares

In the course of 10 pictures, we're going to make you feel way better about the fact that you weren't born 100 years earlier. Because we're telling you right now, medicine used to be terrifying. And we're not just talking about the fact that it took a really long time to convince doctors to wash their hands before surgery. We're talking about walking into a hospital and seeing things like ...

#10. Pedicle Grafts

BBC News

Wait, what the hell? These are supposed to be old medical photos -- we thought it was going to be like antique stethoscopes and stuff. So why does this guy have alien tentacles growing out of his goddamned mouth? And why doesn't he seem more upset about it?

It's because he's getting a new face. What you are actually looking at is a pedicle graft, a procedure developed by Dr. Harold Gillies to treat disfigured soldiers during World War I, back when skin grafts and reconstructive plastic surgery had about a zero percent success rate. First, a flap of skin from an unaffected area of the patient's body was sewn into a tube and temporarily grafted to wherever the new body part was needed:

BBC News
You just have to look like a Seussian horror elephant for a month or so.

The tube maintained a blood supply to the grafted area, which dramatically decreased the chance of rejection and/or infection while simultaneously increasing the number of children that would never come near you ever again.

Despite the "before" pictures having all the grace and subtlety of Eli Roth, the "after" photos of Gillies' procedure are strikingly impressive, especially considering he came up with it almost a hundred freaking years ago. Patients would go from huge gaping hole in their face, to the grotesque sewn-on graft ...

BBC News
This guy's potential employers are basically limited to Sauron or Gringotts.

... to pretty much looking normal again:

BBC News

#9. Heliotherapy

Fox Photos / Getty

This photo is one of those rare situations where "UFO cult induction ritual" is the best case scenario. When you see a ring of mostly nude children holding hands in a darkened room around an alien glow, do you automatically hear gothic chanting in your mind? Or is it just us?

They're actually standing around a sun lamp. Starting in the late 1800s, kids who suffered from lupus and tuberculosis were sent to hospitals and clinics to receive heliotherapy to treat it. The children's skin produced vitamin D in response to the light, and as a result they were better able to fight off TB and other bacterial infections, as well as seriously alarm any child welfare worker that happened to catch a glimpse of the treatment.

Fox Photos / Getty
"Children, meet the Molesto-Tron 3000"

#8. Electro-Stimulation of Facial Muscles

That man isn't actually screaming in horror -- those wires are electrodes, and he's making that expression because electrical currents are contorting his facial muscles against his will. Okay, he may also be screaming in horror.

The mutton chops on the right there belong to Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne, a French neurologist who electrocuted the shit out of a mental patient's head meat to make him pull goofy faces, and then photographed those faces in the pursuit of knowledge. Consequently, it looks like a still from Howdy Doody if Howdy was the taxidermied corpse of a homeless man rigged with the same wires they used to make Mr. Ed speak.

Wellcome Library via The History of Emotions Blog
"We'll call him 'Mr. Dead' and make millions."

Duchenne originally intended to explore the muscles of the hands, but ultimately decided that it was his scientific duty to put electrodes onto peoples' faces. He kept a detailed photo record of his study, because he knew the Internet would be invented someday.

UC Santa Cruz, Perceptual Science Lab
"See? He's smiling."
"Yes Doctor, but what are you treating?"

#7. Iron Lungs

University of Minnesota

This picture of mounted child heads and a bizarrely cheerful nurse was presumably taken in a wing of Willy Wonka's factory not featured on the tour, wherein he straight-up murders children without any of that candy-themed "life lesson" pretense and saves their heads for glazing.

Unfortunately, the reality here isn't much more pleasant than that -- it's a bunch of kids in iron lungs. These devices were in popular use during the first half of the 20th century to treat victims of the rampaging polio epidemic, because it isn't medicine unless it's mechanically sterile and terrifying.

Blinn College
"This is better than death in the same way a condom of bees is better than castration."

Polio caused paralysis, right down to the muscles the patient used to breathe. The iron lungs were huge machines that did their breathing for them, and as such, a patient could expect to be imprisoned in one of those things for weeks, months or even years. All that time with just their head poking out, unable to do anything except just lay there, motionless and be happy to be alive.

UN Special
And sometimes a mean nurse would just stand there flicking your ear for 12 hours straight.

#6. Rib Resection

This is one you have to look at for a moment before you realize holy shit that guy is missing like 20 percent of his torso and cannot possibly be alive.

Don't worry, all that's happened there is ... oh, wait, it's exactly what it looks like. The guy is having his ribs resected to drain the pus out of his lungs before he drowns in it. In the days before antibiotics, this was a common side-effect of pneumonia. The ribs were often removed so the lungs could be more easily accessed for incision and draining, a procedure which killed exactly as many patients as it sounds like.

"Perfect. I can get my whole hand up in there now."

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