7 Real (And Totally Insane) Medical Practices From History

Whenever someone says, "People in the past were such dumbasses," scholars like to point out that you have to judge history in its proper context. Take medicine, for example: Yes, people once believed diseases were caused by demons and/or witches, but remember that it all made perfect sense to them based on the available information at the time.

That said, we find it a bit hard to believe that no one found it strange that ...

#7. Blowing Tobacco Smoke into People's Assholes Was a Popular Cure

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

For as long as humans have had buttholes, healers have been shoving various substances in there just to see what would happen. The ancient Mayans ingested hallucinogenic drugs through their rectums as a ritual journey to the spirit world. Yeah, that's what those guys are doing on the right:

Justin Kerr
"You really, really don't want to eat the brown acid."

But then, in old-timey Europe, enemas became less about going on psychedelic anus trips and more about literally blowing smoke up your ass. We know we just used the word "literally" there, but we're afraid you still think we're kidding. Have this picture for daring to doubt us:

"I swear to God, if you fart, I will kill you."

The anal trumpeter in the illustration is actually using his mouth to blow tobacco smoke up the poor bastard's ass as a form of popular 18th century cure. Back then, tobacco in all of its forms was used to treat basically anything from colic to vomit, hernia, rheumatic pains, and an excess of dignity.

Even crazier, the entire practice of blowing smoke into someone's rectum comes from Native Americans, who used this method to resuscitate drowning victims (we wish we could go back and talk to the first guy who suggested this, because we have many questions for him). American settlers then borrowed this technique for bringing people back from the dead (sans their anal virginity) and with time started promoting it as the new cure-all throughout the New and Old worlds.

"Ugh, menthol, gross."

And so, for about half a century, colonial America and Europe actually witnessed plenty of scenes of people asking their buddies to smoke a cigarette into their butts whenever they got an upset stomach or something. The practice pretty much died down around the early 19th century, but not before becoming the actual, real inspiration for the saying "Don't blow smoke up my ass."

Oh, and in case you thought that using this device on unconscious and willing adults was crazy, they also used it on agitated horses, like the one tastefully depicted below with a pipe sticking out of its butthole.

And this is how steampunk was invented.

And while we're talking about butt stuff ...

#6. John of Arderne's Anal Surgeries Were the Stuff of Nightmares

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

WARNING: Do not attempt to read the following entry while eating. Or after having eaten recently. Really, don't read this if you've ever eaten food before.

Anyway, an anal fistula (see?) is a condition where your anal glands get blocked and a lump builds up to the surface of the ass in the form of a painful abscess. It's a lot less common nowadays, seeing as its primary cause was riding a horse for hours a day ... which unfortunately was sort of par for the course during the Middle Ages. Back then, if you came down with an anal fistula, it usually meant you had to learn to live with the Superman of all hemorrhoids in a world where soft chairs were considered a mortal sin.

But around the 14th century, along came a surgeon named John of Arderne, who devised a way to fix a knight's broken ass after apparently taking a semester at Cenobite University:

John of Arderne
He was expelled for creeping out the other students.

JOA's procedure essentially involved stabbing someone through the fistula and into the rectum, then threading a rope through the hole so it comes out the anus and the initial wound. The physician would then tie the two ends of the rope together and tighten them, after which he'd hack away at ... well, you get the general and horrific idea. But just to make sure, here's another illustration:

John of Arderne
It's like if Satan had designed Operation.

There are plenty of pictures out there if you want to see them -- before he died, JOA churned out a buttload of illustrated medical texts, which you'd assume were rife with other misconceptions even more terrifying than his "javelin up the ass" approach to healing people. Actually, despite how gruesome the procedure looks, the operation was a phenomenal success and gave the surgeon Doogie Howser-style medical fame.

John of Arderne
We can only imagine what his end-of-the-day journal entries were like.

Oh, sure, the surgery did have only a 50 percent survival rate, but back then such high numbers were pretty much unheard of. So, throughout the 14th century, nobles and knights were lining up to be put into a birthing position and have some guy thoroughly floss their lower intestines.

John of Arderne
"OK, when I pull this, you say, 'There's a snake in my boot!'"

#5. They Used Steam-Powered Vibrators on Women


We've previously talked about how vibrators were used to treat the hilariously misdiagnosed female "hysteria." Back in the day, doctors thought that the best way to keep a woman from stressing over silly things like equal rights was to finger-bang her until she achieved a "hysterical paroxysm," usually followed by a relaxing cigarette.

It's important to note, though, that the doctors did not concoct this treatment because they were lonely. They actually saw it as tiresome manual labor, and so, to save time, they eventually turned to machines. And not some slick Silver Bullets, either: We're talking about steam-powered behemoths you'd expect to see in some horrifying porno reimagining of Frankenstein:

George Taylor
Figs. 3 through 9 are just people with pickaxes and torches.

In the mid-19th century, George Taylor invented a coal-powered vibrating machine awesomely called the manipulator to be used for "pelvic and hernial therapeutics," because the 1860s frowned on using words like "stimulate" and "clitoris" in any kind of proximity.

And this is how steampunk Rule 34 was invented.

The female patient would lie on the padded table and straddle that little patch, which would vibrate and give her the "paroxysm" she couldn't get from her husband (Taylor even warned that women must always be supervised while using it to "prevent overindulgence"). While there were wind-up and hand-crank vibrators developed as early as the 18th century, Taylor's was the first to combine the power of skin-melting steam and an uncomfortable closeness to one's private parts -- which here is defined as "less than one nautical mile." Fortunately for the reproductive prospects of the human race, the actual engine part was housed in another room due to its size and the remnants of Taylor's sanity.

#4. "Hydrotherapy" Was Basically Waterboarding (or Worse)

sodapix sodapix/F1online/Getty Images

If you do a Google search for "hydrotherapy" nowadays, you'll probably see a bunch of people relaxing away in pools and Jacuzzis. But hundreds of years ago, hydrotherapy looked less like something you'd see in a hotel brochure and more like evidence from a war crimes trial.

Ebenezer Haskell
Moments before Victorian Rambo snapped.

What you're seeing up there is a legitimate form of hydrotherapy used to treat mental disorders between the 17th and 19th centuries. The idea that water can cure physical and mental ailments dates back to the ancient Greeks, but during the early 1600s, Dutch chemist and physician Jan Baptist van Helmont took that relatively harmless belief and escalated it to "Let's drown the insanity out of these poor bastards!"

Joseph Guislain
"Look, it's this or weird butt stuff. We've had lots of success with weird butt stuff."

Patients undergoing the Helmont cure were usually waterboarded or held underwater until the bubbles stopped, which back then was like a microwave ding letting you know that "mad ideas" have been suffocated out of their head ... if you managed to resuscitate them, that is. The idea eventually evolved into the "bath of surprise," where the patient was unexpectedly thrown into water using complex contraptions seemingly designed by Dr. Wile E. Coyote.

Joseph Guislain
"Always make sure that arrow's pointing north. If shit happens, you're going to need to know which way the border is."

The treatment was an early form of shock therapy designed to snap the person back to reality and waaaaait a minute: Water, surprising the patient ... are we totally sure that all those doctors weren't confusing mental illness with the hiccups?!

"Saying stuff like that is what got you here in the first place, buddy."

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