The 5 Most Insane Modern Medical Procedures That Work
Medicine is unique in that every radical advance is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. When they tell you that they may be able to repair your liver by implanting one grown in a sheep, you'll be half tempted to say, "Nah, I'm just gonna try to ride this one out."
Those same mixed emotions surely run through every patient who hears their doctor suggest ...
Shoving Human Feces Up Your Nose
So, you've got some stomach problems. Maybe you have inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation -- whatever, there's no need for us to make jokes about "too many enchiladas" here. Gut problems are no laughing matter. Well, until your doctor looks you dead in the eye and in a somber tone says, "I'm afraid that you're going to need a shit transplant. And no, this is not a euphemism."
"Eat shit and live."
How in the hell could that possibly be a real thing? Well, it has to do with bacteria. As much as we think of bacteria as being the stuff that makes us sick (isn't that why people use smelly antibacterial hand lotions all the time?), your body is actually full of the stuff. Especially in the intestines, there are all sorts of "natural human flora" that make normal food digestion possible.
But, if the bacteria go wrong, then digestion goes wrong. Which means the reverse is true: You can fix a lot of intestinal problems by fixing the bacteria. So for a while, science has known that isolated bacteria from human feces could be used to treat gastrointestinal disorders. But then finally somebody said, "Why not just get somebody's healthy shits and cram it all into the sick person? Then we'd know they have the right bacteria, right?"
And then they went and had a party to celebrate, because scientists are different from us.
They call it "fecal bacteriotherapy" (also known as a fecal transplant or transfusion), and we know what you're thinking: "So does this mean the donor has to come to the hospital and poop into my butt? Or do they have some kind of hose that shoves the poop into my butt?" It's neither. The human digestive tract runs one-way. If they're going to cram donor turds into you, it has to go in the other end.
This is why a lot of porn stars have incredibly healthy intestines.
Luckily, to avoid having to eat poop, they have figured out that they can simply run a tube through your nose, down your throat, through your stomach and into your duodenum. Then they have somebody shit into it. Or maybe they have a bag of shit sitting there already, we're not reading any more about this.
Removing Half of Your Brain
Seizures and epilepsy affect an unacceptably high portion of the population. There is medication, of course, and other treatments that may or may not work, or may have varying awful side effects.
And, when things get really bad, you're probably willing to listen to any options. And that's good, because there's a chance your doctor will stroke his chin and say, "Well, all of the seizures are coming from the left side of your brain. Probably best just to take that sucker out."
"No, this jar is for the important brains. Yours will go into that bowl with a bone on it."
Understanding why they would remove half of your brain to stop seizures involves understanding a bit about what a seizure is. It's basically a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, and the problem is that it usually originates in one spot and then radiates across the rest (kind of the way a short circuit can send a jolt across anything made of metal that's touching it). So maybe it makes sense that some primitive doctor way back when decided to just hack that half of the brain out. The shocking part is that A) it worked, B) they still do it and C) you can totally survive it.
They do have to stick another elbow onto your brainless side to balance you out, though.
The procedure is called a hemispherectomy, and you can absolutely live a normal life after the half-brain removal, especially if you have it done as a child, since the brain is still growing, and the remaining half can adapt to carry the load. Of course there are tons of risks, and it is a last resort (only considered when "the alternatives are worse"), but more than 75 percent of patients are completely or nearly completely seizure-free after that.
Wait, so once it's done, the other half of your skull is just empty space? What keeps the remaining half of your brain from sliding around in there? Well, like any empty pocket in your body, it eventually fills with fluid. Though, yeah, there have been cases of patients' remaining half-brains sliding around and causing problems.
You'd think they'd at least stuff a couple of hand towels in there.
Of course, there are less severe options, such as corpus callosotomy, where they merely go in and cut your brain in half, but leave both halves in your skull. That way you might still get seizures, but they can't spread to the rest of the brain because, well, it's completely cut off. Science!
You wouldn't leave us with an independently murderous limb, though, would you, science? S-science?
Freezing You from the Inside Out
We hate to break it to you, but there is no evidence that cryogenics (the science of freezing a person after death so that they can be resurrected later) works at all, or that it will ever work. Unfreeze a caveman, and all you have is a well-preserved dead guy who thousands of years ago got caught in an avalanche and froze to death.
But, if one day all of the Big Macs catch up to you and you wind up having a heart attack, you might find yourself in an ambulance, hearing the crew shout about how there isn't enough time, and you're not going to make it if they don't "chill" you. That's when one guy will lean over and say, "Have you ever seen The Empire Strikes Back? We're about to do a Han Solo thing here."
"To warm her back up I'll need a Tauntaun and a light saber."
OK, they're not actually going to freeze you carbonite-solid. But the process is almost weirder than that. They're going to basically chill you from the inside out, to slow everything down. Ambulances have begun using this body-chilling therapy on cardiac arrest patients by administering a chilled saline solution intravenously.
The solution is kept at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a little warmer than the cola in your refrigerator. That probably doesn't seem all that cold, until you have it coursing into your veins that are used to being 49 degrees warmer.
Unless you take vodka intravenously, like 66 percent of our readers.
The lowered body temperature decreases the brain's need for oxygen, which provides further time for the patient to reach the hospital, where the cardiac arrest can be dealt with accordingly. One cardiac arrest victim, Jill Finley, is certain that without the treatment she'd be much worse off. As she so elegantly puts it: "If they wouldn't have used the 'the big chill' on me, honestly, I'd be laying in a nursing home with diapers."
"Now I just travel around with my husband cracking terrible puns and trying to defeat Batman."
Amputating Half of Your Body
If you thought removing half of the brain was the craziest thing a human could survive, hang on to your ass. Because if things get really bad, there may come a point where, desperate, you'll say, "Doc, is there anything else that can be done?" And the good doctor will reply, "Well, have you ever considered being cut in half?"
"OK, as long as the other me goes to work and I get to lay around the house."
We don't mean lengthwise, obviously. That would be crazy. We mean everything from the waist down. Gone. Everything.
A hemicorporectomy is what they call it when "the bony pelvis, pelvic contents, lower extremities, and external genitalia are removed following disarticulation of the lumbar spine and transaction of the spinal cord" -- also known as removing the entire lower half of your body, something that most people use on a very regular basis.
We hear some people move around a whole bunch using just their legs, which is weird.
It's a very complex procedure (presumably they don't just make you lie down under a guillotine) with a vast array of physical, mental and emotional implications for the patient (use your imagination). Therefore it takes a serious set of circumstances to even consider this. We're talking a malignant tumor below the waist that can't be stopped any other way, or other conditions such as pressure ulcers or catastrophic infections of bones or bone marrow.
It also takes a bunch of doctors to pull it off, because there is no one doctor who is a specialist in slicing dudes in half in a way that actually improves their quality of life.
"Quality of what, now?"
Being short isn't one of those things you think of as curable at all. But, if you finally get fed up of not being able to reach the last box of cereal on the top shelf and decide to hop into your Mini Cooper and demand that your doctor add inches to your height, what do you think he'd recommend? Growth hormones? Taller shoes?
Would you think he was just messing with you if he nodded and said, "You know, why don't we just stretch those leg bones? Of course, we'll have to break them first ..."
"And then after you've paid your medical bills, we'll break them again to do the actual surgery."
It's called distraction osteogenesis, because any truly descriptive name would sound like a medieval torture technique. The theory is that, while the cells in your bones won't grow to make them longer (after a certain age, anyway), they will still grow when they need to heal a break. So, just force the issue.
You're only a few hundred hours of agony away from reaching the top of the bookshelf.
First they go in and break the bone. Then they attach a "distractor" (a brace thing) to keep both broken ends in place, with a little gap in between. In the following days or weeks, regenerated tissue fills the empty space, which then heals into perfectly normal, functioning bone.
While it's normally done to correct birth defects (like malformed jawbones and such), as you can imagine, such a procedure has captured the minds of many short people imagining themselves with longer legs. It's becoming a popular process, especially overseas, where the idea of gaining a couple inches has made distraction osteogenesis a new trend in cosmetic surgery. We also wouldn't be surprised if some college basketball recruiter wasn't at this moment telling some teenage power forward, "You know, you could probably get a scholarship if you were only a couple of inches taller. Now, I know a guy ..."
"He made one leg longer than the other, and now he runs circles around his opponents."
For more medical insanity, check out 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk and The 6 Most Terrifying Medical Malpractice Cases Ever.