Five Things You Don’t Want to Know: Doctor! Doctor!

Caitlin McLaren - 3T Chemical
Posted on: July 16, 2016

Most of us tend to trust the guy in the white coat. After all, doctors go to school for many years, and they know all the latest science about the body, right? Right?

Historically, as it turns out, many doctors suffered from cranio-rectal syndrome. Let’s see some examples of ancient “medicine” that make a modern person shudder.

Old-Time Doctors Really Didn’t Know How Periods Worked

Because most doctors used to be dudes, and dudes can be clueless about periods, it isn’t surprising that there were some misconceptions. Still, you would think that there would be a little more investigation about something as normal as menstruation, but instead doctors liked to make up their own crazy theories about how lady parts were responsible for basically everything.

I’ve mentioned before how Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine himself, thought that most diseases in women were caused by the uterus becoming detached and moving around in the body (seriously, wouldn’t you feel that?). Unsurprisingly, he also had weird ideas about periods. For one thing, he thought that the blood could get redirected, and could come out as a nosebleed or vomit. Thus, if you didn’t have a period in a while vomiting blood was actually a good sign – at least you were purging yourself of the excess blood! Even more weirdly, the blood might start running under your skin, resulting in huge bruises; you should put an ice pack on those (which is kind of reasonable as a treatment).

Hippocrates was an ancient Greek, but this belief lasted an unreasonable long time: even in the 1700s, European doctors said that bleeding from the ears, gums, saliva glands, tear ducts, and fingers (fingers? Did they not know what cuts were?) were all redirected periods. Even up to 1953, the journal Nursing Mirror listed some of those, though they said that menstruation through tear ducts and sweat glands was “doubtful”. Glad they realized that much.

Chinese Medicine Has A Lot Of Penises

Ladies first, but let’s cover the gentlemen now so they don’t feel left out. What should you eat to become more healthy and virile? According to traditional Chinese medicine, a penis is just the thing! (Ladies…) Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about human penises – deer penises are much better. First, you remove it from the deer while the deer is still alive, and then your roast it, dry it in the sun, and eat it. This would be the women’s job, for obvious reasons. You can also soak it in alcohol or add it to the brew, and the resulting deer penis wine makes you stronger and enhances athletic abilities. Don’t worry – the government banned athletes from drinking it during the Beijing Olympics (phew!). If you want to go even further, you can drink Three-Penis Wine, which is infused with deer, dog, and seal penis.

Ancient Indian Doctors Added Rocks, Lead

Ancient Indian medicine was pretty good, as ancient medicine goes. Indian doctors believed in a healthy, balanced lifestyle, which is a good start. They also realized that citrus fruit could prevent scurvy, and discovered crude forms of inoculation. They even did nosejobs. Most medicines were herb-based, which is usually fine.

However, all ancients civilizations made errors, and India’s error back in the day was thinking that metals had spiritual or health benefits. Thus, doctors might grind minerals into medicines as well. Iron and copper might not be so bad, but when you start grinding in things like mercury, lead, or arsenic, then you have a problem. However, a lot of doctors wouldn’t admit there was a problem and said things like “No, you were just adding that lead in the wrong way”, which is not something you really want to hear from a health expert.

Ancient Egyptians Couldn’t Science

Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest civilizations, and they still hadn’t really figured out the difference between magic and science. The first doctor we know about was Imhotep, which is bound to put one on edge. Thus, while you get many prescriptions that are reasonable, you will also get some prescriptions that are quite weird.

For example, if your kid is constipated, you should boil an old book in oil and rub exactly half of it on their stomach. If you have a disease of the eye – literally any disease of the eye – you should get a human brain, split it in half, mix one half with honey, and rub it in your eyes before going to bed. Dry out the other half, mash it up (make sure there are no lumps!) and rub it in your eyes when you wake up.

Also, whatever you do, make sure you always shave your armpits.

American Patent Medicines

What, you thought America was too recent for all this quackery? Not so long ago, there were so many absurd “patent medicines” that it would be impossible to list them all. One of the main draws was alcohol, especially during Prohibition, but there would be all kinds of ingredients in the tincture. Some of them might be narcotics, such as opium or heroin; cocaine, paralysis-causing neurotoxins, and capsaicin. Sometimes the literal snake oil salesman would add laxatives, just so the patients would feel that the medicine was doing something (What if the patient wanted to cure chronic diarrhea?).

Other “doctors” would sell radioactive water containing uranium or radium; if you were lucky, they were fake. Otherwise your jaw might fall off. Still other doctors sold devices that gave electric shocks, claiming it was good for you. One notorious con artist, John R. Brinkley, showed an understanding of insecure men and complete misunderstanding of science, peddled injections of coloured water as “electrical medicine from Germany” as a way to enhance virility. Later, he came up with a method simultaneously more logical and more horrifying, and transplanted goat’s testicles into guys’ scrotums to increase their manhood.

Before you go pointing fingers at old-timey or foreign idiots, remember: we’ve all been there at one point or another in our history, and who knows what practices of modern doctors our great-grandchildren will consider stupid and barbaric?