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10 Old-Timey Medical Treatments Inspired by Your Nightmares

#5. Net Suspension

Harvard Orthopaedic Journal

"We've caught another one, boys! We're gonna eat like kings tonight! There ain't nothin' like the meat of a well-tortured human!"

That dangling torture device was actually for patients with scoliosis and other deformities, in order to "set" their crooked backs before putting them in a cast by dangling them in a net by their hands and feet. This was also back during the terrifying reign of polio, when the medical community was so overwhelmed with cases of skeletal deformity that they were a hair's breadth from just paying circus strongmen to hammerpunch people's spines back into place. Though that would have made for a less disturbing photo.

Hulton Archive / Science & Society Picture Library
"Let's just topple the whole damn thing, teach a lesson to this wishy-washy spine."

#4. DDT Delousing

WW2 US Medical Research Centre

Nothing mildly amuses a soldier like a woman whose hair is on fire. Wait, is he trying to extinguish the fire? Is he setting it? Is this all some kind of prank?

Don't worry, that's not actually smoke. It's just a huge cloud of bug poison that he's using to kill the lice in her hair. Lice carry diseases, and in World War II, lice were especially common among POWs and concentration camp survivors, because those people clearly hadn't been hit with enough bullshit.


"I made another bet with the devil, then forgot why. I ... may have a problem."

The USDA discovered that DDT mercilessly destroyed lice, in addition to anyone in a physical contest against Jake "The Snake" Roberts. So, it became common practice to hose down pretty much anyone on the front lines with DDT powder, because we weren't entirely clear on what cancer was at this point.

George Konig / Getty
"This should prune your tiny ovaries, dearie!"

#3. Violet Ray Machines

Electrotherapy Museum

That space-bong the suffragette in the picture is shoving into her nose is called a Violet Ray machine, which were essentially portable Tesla Coils doctors gave to patients to use at home for the relief of minor pain and skin irritation (because if it's old and weirdly science-awesome, it must be Tesla). They started out as legitimate medical devices, but quickly dissolved into mass produced trinkets that could supposedly cure everything from stuffy noses to prostrate trouble.

Electrotherapy Museum
That's right, "prostate trouble." As in "one of those wands is going on a voyage up your asshole".

The idea was, you plugged the machine into a light socket and then used a variety of glass or metal attachments for different parts of the body to zap away ailments with the combined might of 1920s science and medicine. The medical claims were nowhere near accurate, of course, and the FDA eventually had Violet Ray machines recalled and destroyed.

#2. Plombage (Lung Balls)

New England Journal of Medicine

You can be forgiven if you can't tell what you're looking at here, because it looks like an X-Ray of somebody with dozen golf balls in their right lung. Of course, that would be ridiculous -- what possible medical benefit could be derived from cramming a patient's lung full of golf balls? No, they actually used these:

New England Journal of Medicine
Neuticles?

It was a procedure called plombage, which was the process of collapsing a person's lungs with acrylic balls to allow them to "rest" and heal the lesions caused by tuberculosis. The drawback to this therapy was that sometimes the balls were never taken back out, which led to infection, sepsis and other serious complications related to having your lung tissue inundated with balls made of the same material used to craft RuPaul's fingernails.

General Thoracic Surgery
Pictured: a serious complication.

#1. Radioactive Strontium Eye Treatment

Al Fenn / Getty

We could jokingly compare this to the infamous clamped-eyeball psychological torture scene from A Clockwork Orange, but then was saw the radiation symbol here and realize the reality is probably worse. No matter what the intended use of that device was, this was not an era when people knew a whole lot about safe uses of radioactivity. Or cared.

The patient here is receiving doses of radioactive strontium, which shoots radiation into the eyeball to destroy tumors or whatever other sort of thing you'd hate having on your eye so much that irradiating your eye is considered a preferable alternative. This one is still used, by the way, though they're working on a much less terrifying method of just injecting some strontium directly into your goddamned eyeball.

Indiana University School of Optometry
"Doctor, could you maybe, uh ... stop cackling?"

Tracy has a Tumblr here. Follow her and together you can take over the Tri-State area!

For more reasons to fear doctors from the past, check out 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk. Or read about 5 Horrifying Tales Of 911 Incompetence.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Medical Miracles that Harness the Power of Sound

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