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We feel safe saying that Benjamin Rush has a more impressive resume than any of us. Signer of the Declaration of Independence, surgeon general of the Continental Army, father of American psychiatry -- he did it all. But above all else, Rush was living proof that great and generally smart people can sometimes have really horrible ideas, like using torture to treat mental illness:
"Works great on curbing olde-tyme ultra-violence."
Rush's paradoxically named tranquilizing chair was a form of shock therapy meant to deplete your senses of any kind of stimulation and help make you docile enough so that the doctor could expel all that silly insanity right out of you. That's actually what the bucket underneath the chair was used for: gathering the insanity. For all his education, Rush still adhered quite strongly to the ancient Greek belief in bodily humors and was certain that by involuntarily bloodletting his patients and causing them to shit themselves out of confusion, he was actually purging madness out of them with each disgusting drop.
Eventually, Rush's understanding of mental illness became more sophisticated and he began to realize the deep connection between the brain and mental health. This ironically led him to the insane invention of the gyrator (or "O'Halloran's swing"), which spun patients around to raise their heart rate and improve blood flow to the brain, thus making them sane again.
And see their lunch again, unfortunately.
Soon Rush's theories led other doctors to construct all sorts of rotary, swinging, and spinning devices, which were like early carnival rides ... if carnival rides were found in the basements of insane asylums and were operated by people even more terrifying than ex-con carnies.
"On the plus side, there's no shitty mullet-rock on this ride."
One of many, MANY problems with curing insanity this way, however, was that the man who started the entire craze had a very broad definition of "insanity," essentially classifying it as anything he didn't agree with, including: lying, rejection of Christianity, lack of patriotism, and not trusting doctors.
"I don't want to get on that thing!"
"I see we got to you just in time."
German psychiatrist Johann Christian Reil figured that if you're trying to treat a diseased brain, you need to jump-start that shit. Throw enough sheer terror or utter confusion at the patient, and she's sure to come around!
So, for instance, instead of just using the water shock treatment mentioned earlier, he added live eels to it to mentally scar the bad thoughts out of his patients.
H. Dahling/F.W. Bollinger
And if all else fails, you can just try posing creepily next to a skull.
Eventually, Reil took it a step further and did away with all the water bullshit, preferring to freak people out by placing mice in inverted glass bowls on them or dripping molten wax on their skin. Reil's idea was to bring patients back to a state of conscious awareness, either by scaring them into it or by creating a spectacle so fascinating that they couldn't look away, thus forcing them to focus on the real world. Which brings us to the cat piano.
"Quit squirming or I'll try using you guys as a violin instead."
Reil called it the Katzenklavier, and it was a literal cat piano, which sounds a bit like that keyboard cat video, only here the cat was the piano, Reil was the cat, and everything was horrible and wrong, forever.
"You will pay, human. Someday, our chosen one shall rise to play this tune to your downfall."
The cats' tails were placed under the hammers of the piano keys so that when they came down, the cats would painfully screech out a melody. The patient, presumably thinking that he was now caught in some Inception-style world of a madness mindfuck, would hopefully come to his senses upon seeing this bit of PETA-enraging lunacy and immediately punch Reil through the lungs. Hey, did we mention that this is the guy who coined the word "psychiatry"?
In the early 20th century, medicine was finally starting to get the whole mad scientist thing down and was looking for new avenues in which it could really Show them all! One of these was the business of animal-to-human transplants, also known as xenotransplantation. And no, we're not talking about inspirational tales of saving some kid's life by implanting a pig's heart -- we're talking about dudes who wanted to fuck like monkeys getting monkey-ball implants.
It started with French doctor Serge Voronoff, who made a comfortable living improving the sexual vigor of millionaires by implanting the balls of executed convicts in them, which incidentally is also the plot for the best XXX parody of a horror movie ever. As the supply of convict sacks tends to fluctuate wildly, Voronoff eventually decided to just start using monkey testicles instead, which he apparently had plenty of just lying around the place.
I wish I could tell you that monkey fought the good fight and the doctors let him be.
I wish I could tell you that, but mad science is no fairy tale world.
Voronoff also wasn't just your run-of-the-mill nutjob doctor. He was a supreme nutjob doctor with a huge following and a gigantic client base looking to put some of that proverbial monkey-sex prowess into their leather pouches. The fad for this monkey-Viagra hit 1920s Paris especially hard, as wealthy socialites and sometimes even heads of state rushed to Voronoff and others for the monkey-ball transplant.
Then U.S. surgeon John Brinkley got in on the rejuvenation game. Noticing a lack of sexually vigorous monkeys in the area, however, he decided to use goats instead. And unlike Voronoff, who was actually a kinda-respected and somewhat-pioneering doctor during his time, Brinkley just bought a medical degree for $100 and opened up shop next to his goat pen.
Kansas State Historical Society
Loony can't be choosy.
Brinkley couldn't have cared less about the science behind it and was much more interested in raising his profile and raking in the money. Ultimately, at least 42 of the hundreds of patients he performed the operation on ended up dead, and his shenanigans finally caught up with him. By the 1930s, Brinkley was a multimillionaire and the king of goatnads, but by the 1940s, he was exposed as a fraud and hit with thousands of lawsuits.
Here's to the brave men who stood up in court and said, "I paid good money for this man to give me goat balls, and I demand a refund."
For writing that not even Reil would endorse, you can check out Steve's blog.
Related Reading: We laugh at these, but we wouldn't if they'd resulted in an incredible cancer cure. Sorta like the time some crazy dude electrocuted frogs and wound up learning how muscles work. Medicine is harder than you think -- just ask this real-ass doctor we talked to. Last, why not learn about these medical procedures that secretly aren't worth it.