Bizarre Medical Treatments From The Past Show How Far We’ve Come

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The history of medicine is filled with wild stories of bizarre treatments methods and medical procedures that aimed to make people feel better. Some of the stranger treatments of old-time medicine would turn out to be useful; while cautery—heating an iron stick on hot coals and then pressing it onto a person’s body—didn’t end up curing broken hearts when the rod was pressed against the patient’s chest, the practice was a forerunner to electric surgical instruments. And while doctors were misguided in prescribing the poison arsenic to treat syphilis and skin conditions, a form of the chemical has been used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia.

It also took a long time to figure out how to use the technology safely. A French physician, Dr. Maxime Menard, had to have his finger amputated when he developed cancer from frequent exposure to radiation while manning an X-ray machine. (In a striking juxtaposition to modern medicine, Menard smoked a cigarette while his offending finger was surgically removed). When Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered the X-ray in 1895, the New York Times was so skeptical that the paper referred to the medical breakthrough as the “alleged discovery of how to photograph the invisible”.

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A Wiener Ambulance with patients in ‘layers’ in a horse-drawn wooden carriage. The sides are partly open but have curtains. The ambulance men are members of the Viennese Voluntary Rescue Society founded in 1881.

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Dr. Elizabeth Bruyn sits in the rear of her horse-drawn ambulance in the United States, circa 1911.

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Medical office in a hospital train, circa 1900.

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In an effort to make childbirth as painless as possible, a patient inhales analgesia during labor whilst a nurse looks over her in July 1939.

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Administering oxygen to a newborn in Berlin, Germany, July 1939.

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A patient lying in an artificial respiration machine called an iron lung, circa 1938.

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Nurses practice operating a respiratory jacket that performs a similar function to an iron lung, circa 1938.

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A young patient, Gerald Blackburn, in an oxygen tent at Princess Beatrice Hospital, circa 1937.

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A woman using an electric inhaling apparatus which produces a medicated fog used in the treatment of colds and influenza, circa 1929.

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Continue on for more Vintage Photographs of Medical Practices of the Past.

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