Terrifying Medical Practices No Longer Socially Acceptable

By Sophia Maddox | April 19, 2023

This portable polio respirator was one of the smaller models available

Think back to the first time you remember visiting a doctor’s office. All of the equipment looked so large and frightening, and the examination was definitely strange, but regardless of which decade you made your first doctor’s visit it couldn’t have been as weird as the medical practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The tools, prescriptions, and ideas that were going around at the time certainly helped modern medicine get to where it is now, but it was definitely weird. Come along while we take a look at some of the most odd medicines and health practices from long ago. Let’s go!

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Polio was one of the worst viruses to infect the western world in spite of the fact that its most deadly incarnation was incredibly rare. This viral illness causes nerve damage, fever, and if it’s bad enough a loss of reflexes and muscle aches that make it impossible to breathe.

When you think about polio there’s no doubt that the iron lung comes to mind. This tank respirator was used to treat people in the early stages of polio who found it hard to breathe after polio paralyzed muscle groups in their chests.There were numerous variations on the tank respirator, and this design seems to offer a degree of comfort while still fixing a patient with a huge technical costume.

The last case of polio in the U.S. was recorded in 1979, although the virus still occurs in parts of Asia and Africa.

This vintage electrotherapy ad makes shock treatment sound like a must-have procedure

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You’re reading that correctly, this ad from the 1940s promoting electrotherapy says that you’ll live longer if you get electro shock therapy after the age of 40. It’s clear that the Northwestern National Insurance Company really wants people to get electro shock therapy, so much so that they refer to the “remarkable treatment” as a “painless” procedure that can cure mental illness.

The strangest thing about this ad is that it’s mostly being pointed at women, with the text reading that “melancholia” is most likely to strike women between the ages of 45 and 60. They claim that this very dangerous therapy is the only thing that can cure someone who’s “deeply despondent.” If only it could cure hyperbole.