Medicine can be described as a wealth of knowledge that has grown over time. Only time, innovation and experimentation have given us what we know today in areas such as antibiotics and radiation therapy. However, many practices used in history that lead us to where we are now were gruesome and painful, but an important stepping stone no less.
In 1628, William Harvey published his book De Motu Cordis, where he described how the human circulatory system actually circulated blood around the body. After this, researchers began experimenting with injecting substances into animals.
Soon after, research lead to experiments with blood transfusions between animals, and Richard Lower, a member of the Oxford Experimental Philosophy Club, was one of the first to show that transfusion could be used in cases of severe blood loss. This was a life-saving discovery, leading to millions of saved lives; however, many were lost during early experiments.
These tests were proved successful during experiments where one dog was drained of most of its blood then replenished with blood from another dog. After this research in the 17th century, French philosophers began transfusing the blood of animals into humans; the main desire originally was to treat mental illness. As such, the blood of docile animals such as calves or lambs were transfused into humans with the hopes of calming a troubled or deranged mind.
Many of these attempts failed as researchers where unaware of problems with immunity and cross-species transfusion as the ABO blood typing system was not developed until 1907, resulting in the death of many patients.
Bloodletting is a medical procedure that has been around for thousands of years. The process involved draining large quantities of blood from an ill patient in the hopes that it would cure them of their illness.
Bloodletting began with the Egyptians and spread to the Greeks and Romans, and popularity continued through the medieval period.
The idea behind this treatment was that illness was a curse onset by a demon or the devil, and the only way to remedy the illness was to drain the evil out of a victim. In most cases this did more harm than good for the patient.
Bloodletting was often performed with arterial incisions or the application of leeches or other parasites to the skin.
Another medical treatment that was used to vent evil spirits from the body is called trepanning. This is the medical term for drilling and boring holes into the human skull.
Human skulls with evidence of trepanning have been found in almost every country from every culture including Roman, Greek, Indian and Chinese.
It is believed holes were drilled into the patient’s heads to cure headaches, treat mental illness and, most importantly, let evil spirits out.
Out of all these bizarre medical treatments that have graced history, lobotomy might just take the cake.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a lobotomy is the process where temporal lobes or other sections of the brain are removed. This idea came into existance in 1890 when Friederich Golz, a German researcher, performed the surgery on his dogs. He found them to be calmer and less aggressive; however, two died.
Gottlieb Burkhardt, the head of a Swiss mental institution, attempted similar surgeries and yielded similar results (including the unintentional death).
It was Antonio Egaz Moniz of the University of Lisbon who went the furthest with lobotomy, winning a Nobel Prize for his research in the field of lobotomy in 1949. It is believed that between 1939 and 1951 over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the U.S.. Fortunately such practices are rare these days.
Interestingly, the USSR banned the procedure in 1950 because doctors felt it was inhumane.