5 Medical Procedures Worthy of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was originally published back in 1818, so everyone's had ample time to get up to speed on the basics: A scientist named Victor Frankenstein fills a shopping cart with corpse parts and, after a little stitching and genetic tinkering, harnesses a lightning strike. Then, ushered by his creator's pride that curdles to mortal terror, a monster lumbers into the world. It's a story not entirely dissimilar to the origin of hot dogs.

But as humanity has worn its collective butt prints into settees and davenports, then La-Z-Boys and raggedy futons, the horrific science fiction of Frankenstein has become the life-giving science fact of today's modern medicine. Here are five ways real Franken-science rearranges, reanimates, and restores.

#5. Blood Transfusions


The University of North Carolina estimates that 41 to 71 percent of the population (plus Keith Richards) will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives. So unless you're some freak who's immune to disease and injury or never needs surgery, get ready for a couple pints.

The practice of transfusion predates Frankenstein by 150 years. Attempted in France using sheep's blood, initial efforts were actually successful, likely owing to the small amount of blood used. But eventually a guy died. That's what happens when you try to transfuse too much sheep blood.


Unfortunately, a big stink over one dead guy in France = no more transfusions for a century and a half.

Things improved with the identification of distinct human blood types, and by 1840 the first full transfusion was performed. Around 1910, anticoagulants were added to blood, and we figured out that popping it into the fridge was a good idea. That set the stage for blood banks and donations, which have been giving some people a cookie and a pat on the back -- and others the opportunity to make some cash to pay the cable bill -- ever since.

"Hey, is there a way to speed this up? I need to get HBO back on before Game of Thrones starts."

The blood for today's transfusions is rigorously tested for infection and diseases like HIV and syphilis, but that doesn't mean the procedure is without peril. The process of transfusing blood adds up to $17 billion annually in additional medical costs due to complications. Getting new life juice can still be plenty tricky.

#4. Defibrillation


When a human heart stops, that ticker's owner is going to either wake up in a hospital with a doctor stroking his chin at the foot of the bed or be dead. So hopefully someone at the church basement potluck supper knows CPR, or better yet, the parish sprung for a defibrillator.

"John, 316!"
"Uh, 'For God so lov-'"
"No, the voltage, you idiot!"

Demonstrated first on dogs in 1899 by two Swiss scientists, the application of electric current (now conveniently available from the wall, not just via lightning bolts a la Dr. Frankenstein) to an arresting heart muscle followed earlier cardiac revival practices such as blowing smoke up a patient's ass, sucking down flower and leaf tea, and bloodletting (actually effective, according to Oprah).

Incredibly, for many years cardiac resuscitation had been the exclusive domain of the fire department. If a patient's heart stopped during a surgical procedure, the doctor calmly removed his plastic gloves, went over to the wall, and dialed up the red engines. That was until Claude Beck, a resident at Johns Hopkins, realized that waiting for the fire department while a patient flopped around on the operating table surrounded by medical professionals was really stupid. He constructed the first AC internal defibrillator, to be used on the heart muscle when the chest cavity was open.

"I tried a different cavity first ... that didn't turn out so great."

The closed-chest paddle method was not pioneered until the mid-1950s. Today, the automated external defibrillator's sensors and processors will calculate whether a shock is necessary, and if so, dispense the correct amount of current to bring a man back from the dead so that he can go lumbering back to the buffet line for another helping of chicken and cream cheese church casserole.

#3. Organ Transplants


Man has known there was something to this whole organ transplant business going pretty far back. Second century B.C. Chinese doctor Bian Que was said to have swapped hearts between two men so as to equalize their dispositions. While that's some Han Dynasty B.S. right there, Bian Que certainly had something of the right idea: Receiving a new organ can alleviate problems your current one isn't taking care of.

"Thanks for your years of hard work, but we've decided to go in a new non-dying direction."

In 1883, Swiss surgeon Theodor Kocher discovered that implanting thyroid tissue could eliminate thyroid deficiency symptoms in a patient. That might seem like a no-duh head slapper now, but this was also the year the first rodeo took place. So, you know, people were just starting to figure things out then.

Kocher's work is largely considered the first modern organ transplant. Once doctors had that under their belts, they were off to the transplanting races -- at least with belief and enthusiasm.

By the turn of the century, it was accepted that internal transplants could cure a raft of diseases, but men of science would be damned if they could figure out why bodies kept turning on and rejecting their new organ pals.

"What if we tried shee-"

Thankfully, an early anti-rejection experiment involving animals wasn't the solution. That involved feeding meat of the organ donor to the organ recipient so as to get the two systems acquainted. Guys, guys, c'mon -- cannibalism is always a last resort.

Stymied by the organ rejection problem, science eventually threw its collective hands up in the air for the next few decades and let everyone kill each other in a couple world wars. Finally, in 1951, a researcher cracked the elusive nut of how to counter tissue rejection -- with beautiful, beautiful drugs. Immunosuppressive drugs, to be exact. Soon we were on our way to making this life-saving procedure viable, readily available, and open for long-ass waiting lists.

And now, roughly 3,500 heart transplants alone are performed annually. Hearts that would have otherwise gone to rot in a grave continue pulsing blood through the veins of regular folks and monsters such as Dick Cheney.

If you think about it, it's a marvel that we live in a time of such medical advancement that waking up in a New Delhi motel room with the dawning horror that your kidney was sliced out for the benefit of some rich bastard is even a possibility!

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