As it turns out, 2016 might not be the future we were promised when we were younger. There are no flying cars, and it seems like we’re doomed to suffer through the impact of climate change. That being said, at least we live in a world filled with the wonders of modern medicine. For a comparison of just how good you have it, let’s take a look back at some of the horrifying medical procedures of the past.
Back in the days when most doctors believed that sickness was caused by your bodily fluids being out of whack, bloodletting was the go-to treatment. It became the standard treatment for a variety of illnesses including plague, smallpox, and epilepsy. Of course, this treatment didn’t last very long in the 20th century, as doctors began to realize that blood loss only made patients sicker and actually killed them.
Cocaine began as a prescription painkiller and general cure-all for what ails you. Freud allegedly prescribed cocaine to his patients quite liberally. However, doctors soon realized just how addictive the substance really was and banned it.
3. Urine Therapy
Urine therapy was just about as gross as you’d think it would be. Practitioners of urotherapy believed that drinking urine and massaging it into the skin would make people healthier. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this doesn’t exactly work.
Chloroform was the original anesthetic, first developed back in 1831. Before the invention of chloroform, surgery was literally the worst thing ever. Patients were administered the drug through a chloroform soak rag and would simply pass out for the surgery. However, its use came with a high rate of complication and death. It was phased out in the 1950s in favor of using safer alternatives.
Heroin began as a cough suppressant marketed by the Bayer Corporation. Soon it was used to treat all kinds of respiratory issues. Not long after, though, it was discovered by morphine users. It was quickly banned at that point.
Let’s get one thing clear: arsenic is poison. Still, that didn’t stop many ancient societies from using it as both a form of medicine (to treat cancers and other serious illnesses) and as an ingredient in makeup.
You probably have never heard of an emetic, but it was brutal. An emetic was essentially something fairly toxic and horrible that would induce vomiting. The reason for their use was that vomiting was thought to rid the body of harmful substances that caused illness. Luckily, emetics didn’t make it to the 20th century as they often just killed people instead of making them better.
Who doesn’t love a good leech-sucking session? Using leeches was an alternative way of bloodletting that became the preferred method in 19th-century Europe. While it’s much less painful than being cut with a knife, leeching (as it was called) was wholly ineffective as medicine.
A hemiglossectomy was a procedure performed in Medieval Europe that involved cutting off part of a person’s tongue. They believed doing this would help cure stuttering and other speech impediments. By the 17th century, this practice had all but died out.
The frontal lobotomy became a popular procedure practiced in psychiatric facilities all over the world in the 1940s. The procedure was supposed to “cure” mental illness. However, this form of intentional brain damage often left its victims in a vegetative state devoid of their former selves. Mercifully, it started fading out by the time 1950 rolled around.
11. Liquid Mercury
Using mercury as medicine is a practice that dates back to ancient Greece. It was applied as a lotion to the skin to treat certain ailments and in severe cases, it was even swallowed. Surprisingly, most pharmacies in the U.S. sold unregulated mercury as medicine well into the 1920s. It took until the 1950s with the discovery of mercury poisoning for this practice to stop.
We might have our problems today, but at least we don’t chop people’s brains up for “treatment” anymore. Small victories, friends.