Throughout history medicine has had some questionable procedures that were carried out on numerous patients. Today most of these procedures can be compared more to torture than an actual cure. In the spirit of Halloween and all things spooky, here are some examples of procedures that thankfully went out of favor.
Lobotomy- The neurologist Antonio Egas Moniz, first developed this gruesome procedure in 1935. However, most are probably more familiar with Dr. Walter Freeman who brought the procedure to the US and advertised it as a form of “psychosurgery”. A lobotomy deals with severing connections in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. This is done with an instrument called a leucotome. Dr. Freeman, however, would use an actual icepick that would be hammered through the eye socket. After moving the pick in a very unprecise manner, patients would be anesthetized (in an induced seizure). With the advancements of psychiatric drugs, this procedure fell out of favor and the last lobotomy was performed in 1967.
Bloodletting- A procedure that lasted for around 2,000 years, was one of the most common procedures carried out until the 19th century in the western world. Based on the old theory that we possess four “humours” or fluids (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile), bloodletting was used to correct the balance of these fluids. Lancets or blades would be used to open superficial veins and sometimes arteries so that the release of the blood would attempt to restore balance.
Trepanation- The oldest form of surgery, and one of the most gruesome is that of trepanation. Practiced as far back as neolithic times, this procedure involved drilling or scraping a hole into the skull. Some believe it was done to release demons from the skull and surprisingly many people lived for years after it was performed. In modern times electric drills may sometimes be used to create a burr hole in the skull that relieves pressure from the brain.
Xenotransplantation- This is a procedure that would use organs or tissues from an animal source and transplant them into a human recipient. In the search for a cure that mimics the fountain of youth, Dr. Serge Voronoff created a particular form of xenotransplantation in 1929. The procedure involved the transplantation of the interstitial gland of a chimpanzee into an elderly man, in hopes of returning him to his younger physical vigor. He argued the use of chimpanzees because monkeys are the nearest species to humans, and they had successfully been used in thyroid experiments. Eventually this procedure was proven to be erroneous.
Smoke Enemas- Back in the 1700’s, with the arrival of tobacco to the shores of Great Britain, it widely became popular that using a tobacco smoke enema could cure a wide range of conditions such as cholera, typhoid, or headaches. The exact procedure could vary, but essentially it involved blowing tobacco smoke up a patient’s rectum. It was thought that this practice would both warm the patient and stimulate respiration. In the early 1800’s, it was established that tobacco causes damage to the heart and the fad quickly declined.
From all of us at Complete Anatomy, we wish you a happy Halloween!