The medical practices we accept as normal today were developed on the base of knowledge gained over centuries of trial-and-error type medical research. Some of these antiquated medical procedures were not only terrifying, they actually did more harm in the long run than the temporary good they may have done at the time. Even more incredible is that some of these practices are still done today in certain corners of the world.
Before the discovery of microscopic little critters like bacteria and viruses, illness was believed to spring from an imbalance in the body called "bad humor". According to medieval medical practitioners, the body was filled with various "humors". If the body was ill, it was a result of an imbalance in these humors. The practice of Blood Letting was developed to drain away the "bad humor", returning a body to a state of proper balance. Unfortunately, sometimes the patient ran out of humor before the treatment was finished.
Nothing gets you going in the morning quite like drilling a hole in your skull. That's literally what the practice called "trepanning" did. It was believed that people suffering from epilepsy or mental disorders could be cured by opening their skull to let the bad "brain humor" out. Not a treatment I would want to try, personally.
At one point in our history, syphilis ran rampant across the land. Doctors of the time believed that fever - an increase in body temperature - would rid the body of the syphilis. So doctors would intentionally infect their patients with malaria, a disease that causes high fever. Patients tended to forget about the symptoms of syphilis because the ravages of malaria were far more acute, and unfortunately just as lethal.
One of the more interesting treatments for scoliosis - an irregular curvature of the spine - was the practice of "net suspension". Doctors would suspend the patient from a series of ropes, nets, and pulleys. They were on the right track with this treatment (think Forrest Gump) but a little perfecting of the suspension apparatus may have been in order.
Acne has been the scourge of adolescents since the dawn of time. Doctors in Maryland came up with a treatment that garnered glowing reviews in the 1960s. They experimented with radiation treatments for severe acne. Yes, you read that right. Radiation treatment. For pimples. Do you really care whether you have clear skin or not when you're dying of brain cancer?
This photo illustrates a practice known as "pedicle grafting". This practice grew out of WWI as a way of treating injuries that required reconstructive surgery. In this illustration, a portion of this man's skin was crafted into a tube then sewn to his nose temporarily as a means of reconstructing injured tissues. These early experiments led to the development of modern skin grafting techniques.
Tuberculosis is a devastating disease. Fortunately, it can be cured with proper antibiotic treatment and application of UV lights. Doctors were on the right path with this Heliotherapy. The photo shows children being treated by standing in a circle in the light of a strong lamp. It was believed that exposure to the light would stimulate their bodies to produce Vitamin D, a key factor in fighting the tuberculosis bacterium.
Infestation by the common body louse is a parasitic invasion that still plagues children and adults today. A chemical called DDT was discovered during wartime to be an effective and efficient way of killing off the nasty little critters. It was only after millions had been exposed to the chemical that it was learned that DDT had carcinogenic side effects. DDT has since been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Yep, you read that right. A poop transplant, commonly known as "fecal bacteriotherapy". That's a fancy name for a simple process: injecting a donor's poop into your rectum. The end result is - hopefully - a balancing of the normal bacterial flora found in the human colon. This practice is still used in treating some conditions today.
Leeches are a natural part of many ecosystems. They attach to their prey and literally suck blood out to feed themselves. When they are full, they drop off. The practice of "leeching" is still widely used throughout the world, especially as a way to reduce swelling and bruising.
This mesmerizing silver liquid was used to treat open wounds in the past. This was common practice before its poisonous, lethal effects were known, of course.
The use of maggots as a wound cleaner dates back to the earliest human settlements. A wound that became infected or even gangrenous could be cleaned by the application of maggots. The little bug larvae would eat the rotten flesh, allowing the wound to heal. This practice is still used today and is actually increasing in popularity.
Ancient Romans used a swish of pee to whiten their teeth. Ancient women collected their family's urine to use as a bleaching agent in the laundry. Drinking urine was a well known treatment for allergies and used to promote healthy skin. Spiritual leaders in some religions today believe drinking urine helps them achieve a more enlightening meditative state.