Medical Practices From History That Will Drop Your Jaw...
This vintage electrotherapy ad makes shock treatment sound like a must-have procedure
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!
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.
Even children were subject to World War II era gas drills
During World War II London was in dire straights as they faced attacks from Germany on a regular basis. During the height of the German bombing campaign against Britain known as the blitz, central locations in Britain were bombed and gassed on a regular basis. In order to save themselves from these attacks the English took to underground shelters and passed out gas masks to people of all ages.
This photo shows a drill at a London hospital where gas masks for babies were being tested. Imagine how scared the children who underwent these tests must have been. Not only did they not know what was happening, but the bombings would continue for months until the Germans called off their attacks in order to invade the Soviet Union.
A look inside Dr. Kellogg's health spa where patients were treated with bizarre homeopathic remedies
When the word “Kellogg” comes to mind most people tend to think of Corn Flakes, the good doctor’s most popular gift to the modern world, but he was also an inventor who focused on holistic treatments. He was so interested in finding natural ways to cure ailments that he established the Battle Creek Sanitarium in the Michigan city of the same name.
The hollisitc sanitarium for the ill and infirmed treated people by changing their diets, monitoring their bodily functions, and attempting to change their mental well being. The centerpiece of the hospital was Kellogg’s “enema room” that was filled with machines that pump 15 quarts of water per minute into a human colon - and these weren’t just for show. He wanted patients to have four bowel movements a day. The sanitarium was shut down in the late ‘30s and its ownership was moved to the US Army.
The Uterine Supporter, because Victorian outfits weren't impractical enough
In 1851 Dr. Simpson’s Uterine Supporter was first advertised, offering women a chance to move freely, or as freely as possible while wearing this, while they were menstruating. As uncomfortable as this looks, Dr. Simpson’s first attempts at creating a menstrual garment was genuine unwearable. Initially he designed a garment that used a “wire stem” that was placed into the vagina.
After getting some notes on the system he developed this far less invasive version of his initial design, one that’s been tossed out the women’s health aisles for good thanks to the advent of far less ridiculous appliances.
Vintage dental braces ensured that users stayed at least one foot from every person on the planet
Isn’t it great that braces don’t look like this anymore? Not only do this kind of massive headgear make it impossible to live normal life, but they’re just straight up goofy. When braces first came into fashion dentists used the idea of the “perfect smile” to turn people onto the idea of filling their mouths up with metal and surrounding themselves with a UFO shaped piece of equipment.
To trace braces back to their beginnings one has to look to Thomas Berdmore, the personal dentist to England’s King George III, who said that the perfect set of teeth gives “a healthy juvenile air to the countenance, improve the tone of the voice, render pronunciation more agreeable and distinct, help mastication, and preserve the opposite teeth from growing prominent.”
This cough syrup used cannabis and chloroform as a main ingredient so it definitely made users forget about their coughs
Try some French Drug Co. Cold Treatment Cough Syrup, won’t you? This cough syrup wasn’t just for someone suffering from a sore throat, it could be used to treat anything from swelling of the liver to hysteria, and even vomiting. Depending on how the syrup was prepared or ingested it supposedly had different effects. If you boiled it in water it was good for your throat, but if you boiled it in milk you could cure dropsy, otherwise known as edema, a condition where fluid collects in body cavities.
Regardless of whether or not this cured a patient's ailment, a medicine made up of alcohol, cannabis, and chloroform was sure to conk someone out until they slept through whatever was bothering them, or at the very least it made them feel wonky enough to not worry about being ill. Today, cough syrup manufacturers have replaced cannabis and chloroform with codeine, which essentially does the same thing. So how different are we from our ancestors?
This is one scoliosis treatment that will definitely make you stand up straight
Some of the first scoliosis treatments were created by Doctor Lewis Sayre, one of the founding fathers of orthopedic surgery in the United States. He first became interested in studying spinal issues at the College of Physicians and Surgeons where he wrote a thesis on “spinal irritation.” Sayre was obsessed with treating spinal issues and had a number of experimental ways in which he attempted to fix his patients or at least save them from a life of pain.
Sayre went onto establish the first academic department of orthopedics at the Bellevue Medical College in 1861 and served as the university’s first Professor of Orthopedics.
A patient receives diathermia treatment, don't they look like they're having a great time?
Diathermia was a treatment that involved sending a jolt of electricity through the patient's brain and to other areas of the body in order to treat everything from mental disorders to epilepsy and even to increase blood flow and remove warts. The procedure involved the use of two condenser plates placed on either side of the head or body part that was being treated, and from there high-frequency waves were shot through the body.
As you might imagine, this procedure was unpredictable when it was first introduced and it could be harmful if performed incorrectly. Modern diathermy machines are considered safe, but there’s still some risk involved in their use.
Get comfortable for these dental x-rays
Think about how your last dental x-rays were taken. You were sitting back in a comfortable chair. A piece of plastic was placed in your mouth and a small machine was easily moved around to your cheek in order to snap an x-ray. Unfortunately for folks in the early 20th century they weren’t able to experience this ease.
According to the pioneer of dental procedures, Howard R. Raper, he knew this wasn’t incredibly comfortable so he had an idea of how to make their x-rays go faster. He wrote in Elementary and Dental Radiography, “It is often expedient to have the patient remove the coat and collar for this pose.”
A woman has her problem areas diagnose with the Beauty Micrometer
The beauty micrometer, also known as the beauty calibrator, was a device designed in the early 1930s by the great Polish beautician Max Factor to help in the identification of the areas of a person's face which require more or less enhancement with makeup. The beauty micrometer was initially designed for use in the film industry, something that actresses must have been delighted about.
The design of the Beauty Micrometer was a huge metal contraption that measures the contours of a woman’s face with flexible metal strips that align to a person’s facial features. There was a possibility of 325 adjustments, which allowed for measurements within one thousandth of an inch.
Nervous Pills were used to treat any and everything that a woman experienced
There’s nothing like taking a handful of Nervous Pills for Female Hysteria when you’re feeling a little blue. It’s an unfortunate fact that deep into the 20th century women were still being diagnosed with “hysteria” as a kind of catchall for multiple ailments that included everything from anxiety to failing, and even "a tendency to cause trouble for others.” You know, hysterical stuff.
In order to treat this catchall diagnosis women were prescribed pills that were both addictive and dangerous. The first version of the drug were like these Nervous Pills, and had an opioid base, but later these were outlawed and hysteria was treated with “mother’s little helpers” like Valium and Librium.
Hi-Ho, Roentgen Steed, it's time for an X-Ray
Don’t you hate it when you have to take an x-ray of a kid and they won’t stop squirming? All you want to do is grab a quick pic of their bones but all they want to do is move. That’s where the Roentgen Steed comes in. This sleepy looking toy horse was designed in 1957 to hold kids in place for chest x-rays.
It’s not clear if this weird little horse worked in the way in which it was intended or if it was just something else for a kid to play on. However, this is definitely not the way that kids are held still for chest x-rays today. Not only are x-ray machines better than they were in the ‘50s, but they no longer require weird cartoon horses.
Can't get into that pesky skull? Why not use a hand-cranked skull saw?
Doesn’t that look like something you want near your head? The early skull saw looks like a combination between a bicycle chain and an egg beater, and even though it’s quite a rudimentary piece of machinery it’s actually a fairly forward thinking piece of technology. This 19th century hand-cranked saw was used to cut through sections of the skull, allowing for access by other instruments.
Medical professionals now perform craniotomies to get inside a skull, but rather than using a giant saw they make a burr hole before pulling back a bone flap before adding a shunt and continuing on from there.
Ice cube masks were used to numb your face when you had a hangover
We’ve all been there. The morning sun breaks through the shades after a long night of imbibing. You try to count how many drinks you have while bargaining with your preferred deity that if they’ll take away the pain in your head you’ll never drink again. You wonder if there’s any way to ease the pain in your head. In 1947 an inventor who must have had a heck of a wet bar invented this ice cub mask as a way to dispel hangovers once and for all.
Marketed by the makeup company Max Factor, this mask probably didn’t zap your hangover away, but it definitely made your face look nice and tight, and it might have numbed your head long enough to make you forget about the brain splitting pain.
Heroin was a go to cure all in the 19th century
Suffering from a cold? Feel like you don’t have enough get up and go? Do you just need a little more pep in your step? Why not try this 19th century brew that’s made up of heroin, alcohol, and chloroform? According to the bottle it’s the best cough syrup that anyone could buy, and with only one fluid ounce you too could be healthy and sure, you’ll probably get addicted to heroin.
In 1874 C. R. Alder Wright introduced heroin to the western world after experimenting with morphine. Bayer picked it up and started mass producing the drug in 1898 as a cough syrup and a safe substitute for morphine. Thankfully today we’re not using heroin to treat anything.
A patient receives electroconvulsive therapy, inducing a minor seizure
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a process in which electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally leading to a brief seizure. Commonly referred to as electroshock therapy, this technique was used to treat patients with severe depression and bipolar disorder after they showed no signs of response to less drastic forms of treatment.
While ECT is still being used today, it’s definitely not as mainstream as it was in the early 20th century. Even then medical professionals recognized that ECT wasn’t a cure unto itself and that patients requiring this procedure needed regular sessions in order to keep stable.
Net suspension was an early way to treat scoliosis and a painful way to fix a crooked spine
Net Suspension was a dangling device akin to a medieval torture apparatus that was used to treat patients suffering from scoliosis and other deformities. In order to "set" their crooked backs before putting them in a cast, patients were hung in the net and “straightened out.”
In order for this treatment to work patients were suspended via plaster of Paris bandages which came to be known as a Sayre jacket. Researchers are still unclear on whether or not this treatment actually fixed a patient permanently, but it did pave the way for more humane and comfortable treatments that work much better.
DIY nose shapers were all the rage before plastic surgery
People have been unhappy with the way the look forever, and no matter the era they’ve sought out ways to change their face. Before the advent of plastic surgery multiple companies and doctors created devices that were meant to be strapped to a person’s face in order to squeeze the soft cartilage of their nose to be smaller or straighter.
One version of the DIY nose shaper was a spring-loaded contraption with straps to hold the metal around the patient's face while they slept overnight or throughout the day if they weren’t going outside. One surgeon from Paris claimed that he created a a metal spring-loaded version of the machine that could reshape a nose in three months.
Nurses tend to four young polio patients lying on beds inside an "iron lung" in 1938.
Attending to a group of young people in an iron lung couldn’t have been easy but it was important work. These children were all suffering from polio, a disease that attacks a person’s nerves and makes it nearly impossible to breath on ones own. In order to make sure someone can breath they were placed in a massive respirator that did the job for them.
While there were home respirators available to some people, children being kept for observation had to stay in these multi-respirator units that could take care of multiple polio victims at a time. It definitely wasn’t a fun way to spend your summer vacation.
Researchers watch a live lobotomy, which involves hammering an ice pick up a patient's nose
Dr. Walter Freeman was known as the “father of the lobotomy,” which isn’t necessarily something that you want people to call you. The procedure involved hammering an ice pick through a patient’s eye sockets and into their brain in order to bring about a change in their mental state. More often than not this procedure left patients in a vegetative state and at least 490 patients died.
Freeman loved to show off the procedure and took lobotomies on the road to perform for the press, at one point he even shoved two ice picks through a patient’s eye socket. After a lobotomy went wrong in 1967 and a patient died following three days of blood loss Freeman never performed another lobotomy.
Electroconvulsive therapy was so popular at one point that it was given on an out patient basis
This photo taken at the Worcester State Hospital in Worcester, MA shows a patient receiving mental treatment. It looks as if this woman is preparing to receive an ECT treatment, sending a jolt of electricity through her brain. In the 1940s many men and women were institutionalized for a variety of despondent or anti-social behavior. While under the care of psychiatric doctors and nurses they would receive ECT.
Those who were lucky were able to receive ECT on an outpatient basis and were able to return home after their were turned into lightning rods. As stressful as this treatment sounds, it was known to help patients recover from hallucinations, nonsensical speech, and delusions.
A sick youngster catches his breath in an oxygen tent
This sick child sitting in an oxygen tent definitely brings to mind The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, and while they weren’t used to treat every type of illness like a big orb in a John Travolta movie, they were popularized in order to treat chronic conditions like tuberculosis, lung diseases, heart conditions, carbon monoxide poisoning. These tents were created in order to give more oxygen to someone than normal, and they tend to be provided in the case of someone who has trouble breathing.
Oxygen tents tend to be made out of plastic and they can be as large as a bed or as small as to fit over someone’s shoulders. Even though they’re still used to help people, oxygen tents can be dangerous for anyone using electronics near the device.
This crazy looking machine that measures the metabolism actually worked
This metabolism machine definitely looks goofy, but it was created by Francis Gano Benedict, a researcher who devoted his entire adult life to studying the metabolisms of humans and animals, so whatever this did was probably on the nose. After studying at Harvard University, Benedict completed his PhD studies, magna cum laude at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and received his doctorate in 1895.
Benedict spent the next 12 years conducting over 500 experiments into the exorcise habits, resting periods, and diet using the Atwater-Rosa respiration calorimeter. After publishing his findings he was made the first director of the Boston Nutrition Laboratory in 1907 where continued to study the human metabolism.
This woman is trying to improve her smile by giving herself dimples
Regardless of era or age, people have always wanted to look their best and they’ll go to whatever lengths they can to make it happen. In 1936 New Yorker Isabella Gilbert created a face-fitting spring that shoved two small knobs into the wearer’s cheeks, giving them a gorgeous set of dimples.
It’s not clear how long the user was supposed to commit to this monstrosity in order to get the “fine set of dimples” on offer, or how long the dimples would last after this invention’s use, but the one that’s crystal clear as this definitely was a one way ticket to scarring your face forever.
Ouch, chiseled teeth are a sign of beauty in Indonesia
If this photo of a man chiseling teeth on the Mentawai islands in Indonesia doesn’t put you off rock candy forever then you’ve got a constitution as hard as steel. This Indonesian custom came about because specific tribes of people believe that women are more beautiful when their teeth have been chiseled down to sharp points.
The procedure is still performed today along the customary guidelines that were laid out by the tribe’s forefathers. In order to get the perfect set of chompers, teeth are chiseled down without anesthetic in order to find the perfect balance between body and soul.
A medical practitioner measures the brainwaves of a military casualty
Even in the 21st century medical professionals, researchers, and scientists are still trying to understand the human brain. In order to get inside out minds doctors use electroencephalograms, or EEGs, to get a look at how our brains work, although we’re still trying to get to the heart of the matter, gray or otherwise.
The beginnings of EEG technology comes from the German psychiatrist Hans Berger who published “On the Electroencephalogram of Man” in 1929 and laid out his belief that brain waves, or neuronal oscillations, showed that our brain are made up of thousands of neurons working over time to create an electrical field.
Initially researchers balked at his findings, but by 1939 scientists were on board with Berger’s assumption and using his thesis as the basis for epilepsy treatment.
This portable polio respirator was one of the smaller models available
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.
At home x-ray machines were a normal way to study in the early 20th century
While there were definitely universities with the ability to instruct young medical professionals in the art of the x-ray in the early 20th century, they weren’t as prevalent as they are today.
X-rays were only discovered in 1895, and in order for young medical hopefuls to study this new method of looking inside the body there was a text book released in 1902 called A System Of Instruction In X-ray Methods And Medical Uses Of Light, Hot-Air, Vibration And High-Frequency Currents. This book was meant for home study and it allowed young medical practitioners to give x-rays in the safety of their homes.
This vintage anesthesia machine is ready to knock you out
This anesthesia machine found in an abandoned hospital is certainly not up to modern medical codes, but it’s the best that medical science could muster in the early 20th century. Even though this machine may look scary, it looks to be at least somewhat easy to clean and sterilize, and once you’re getting pumped full of either it’s not like you’re going to care where it’s coming from.
While the idea of anathema has been around for generations, the first hospital anathesia wing was created in 1936 at the Massachusetts General Hospital. However, it was in the second half of the 20th century that saw the most advances in this technology.
A woman receives a bloodletting treatment to cure one of many ailments
Bloodletting has been practiced for generations, dating back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. The practice spread throughout the continents over the following centuries and finally made its way west to Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In the 19th century bloodletting hit its peak in use as the centerpiece of western medicine.
There were two main types of bloodletting: Localized bloodletting involved slicing the skin in order to open a wound before cupping, or using dome-shaped glass over the skin to extract the air by suction. The second form of bloodletting involved using medicinal leeches which sucked 5 to 10 ml of blood with each feeding.
Can you believe that no one wanted to wear one of these comfy typhus-carrying lice cages?
Typhus is a a group of infectious diseases that cause fever, headache and rash that are caused by bacterial infection. As this disease broke out across Poland during World War II, the only way to create a viable vaccine was to use this item, a series of cages holding typhus-carrying lice. It was strapped to a person’s leg where they were allowed to feed on the human subject’s blood.
To keep the lice from escaping they were sealed in boxes with paraffin on the top and the same fabric on the bottom that peasants used to separate wheat husks from the seeds.
Past hypertension treatments were ineffective and could actually hinder a patient's recovery
Today, hypertension can be treated with a combination of medications, a change in diet, and exercise. However, decades ago the concept behind hypertension was completely different. It wasn’t considered something that could be treated, but rather something that just happened that doctors couldn’t stop. In the late 19th century medical professionals started looking into what they called “essential hypertension,” which they noticed in vascular changes.
Almost nothing that was pitched as a hypertension treatment really worked, and even FDR, who was diagnosed with hypertension, passed away a few months after his diagnosis. Thankfully many strides have been made in the decades since then.
This terrifying obstetric tool was only used as a worst case scenario
Even as leaps in medical science allowed doctors more ease at delivering children, the 19th century was still a dangerous time for women. Maternal mortality rates were incredibly high, and remained so until the 20th century, and they were matched by the infant mortality rates of the era.
There’s nothing comforting about this 18th and 19th century apparatus that was used in the most unfortunate of circumstances. This obstetric tool from the 19th century was only used as a last resort after a fetus passed away in the womb in an attempt to save the mother, making it one device that doctors hoped they never had to use.
Electric baths were a precursor to modern tanning booths
No, this isn’t some extravagant way to shock a patient, electric baths were actually an early form of light therapy that was a forerunner of the modern sunbed. This photo taken of an Electric Bath at the Light Care Institute shows a bed that was scene at a “light care” institute that treated acute and chronic diseases.
Invented by Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame, the electric bath was thought to improve a “patient’s general vital condition” by giving them a healthy tan while providing “powerful anti-bacterial action,” although it’s unclear if these beds did anything beside turn the patients a strange leathery color.
The Ritter Orthodontist work tower was an all in one tooth pulling, cavity drilling dentist's best friend
Even if you’re not worried about visiting the dentist, this 1920 Ritter Orthodontist work tower has to give you pause. Not only does it look like a Terry Gilliam-esque robot that’s ready to pounce on an unsuspecting patient, but it has a wacky quality to it that’s not desirable in a dentistry setting. At the time, the tower was the peak of technological craft.
It came with a belt driven drill, suction unit, two stage milk glass spit sink, an exam light, various pressure driver tools, and a foot control which is genuinely impressive but still upsetting from the perspective of someone 100 years in the future.
This vintage dentistry clockwork drill looks cool, but wasn't comfortable for patients
This clockwork drill from the 1800s is fascinating, not only because of its intricate design, but because of its place in early mechanized tools. Unlike a modern drill, this piece of machinery only worked for two minutes after being wound. After that, the dentist had to wind the drill again and get back to work.
This drill was invented by British dentist George Fellows Harrington in 1864, and a year later he improved on his design with interchangeable heads and contra-angles. As cumbersome as this drill was, it was already on the way out by the 1870s when the foot engine was introduced.
This midwifery bag had everything you needed to deliver a baby in the 19th century
Throughout the 19th century most births were performed at the hands of midwives, homes were just the most comfortable place to have a baby. On top of that, hospitals weren’t really equipped to handle multiple births a day the way they are now. Early on, midwives were usually women who attended to expecting mothers during childbirth, but as time wore on more men got into the practice.
This bag likely belonged to a male midwife as female midwives traditionally did not use instruments in this period. This bag has everything one would need to deliver a baby, including obstetric forceps, a gag in order to bite away the pain, and a myriad of other tools.
A soldier lies patiently beneath a mobile x-ray machine
This photo of nurses using a mobile x-ray machine at St. Guy's Hospital in London was taken in 1941, at the beginning of World War II. At the time x-ray technology was still in its infancy compared to what’s available today, and it’s likely that this is one of the only x0ray machines available in the fixed hospital in which this soldier is staying.
At the time many hospitals were on the front lines and weren’t equipped with the technology that they needed to do their jobs. Today, x-ray machines are a variety of sizes and tend to be in a fixed position. However, in an era where things needed to move quickly this was the best option.
Kids love Doctor Macalister's Cough Mixture
This old medicinal cannabis oil bottle shows one of the most common ways to get cannabis in in the 19th century. While working in India, Irish doctor William Brooke noticed the locals using it in their medicine. He started experimenting and found that it worked to help calm seizures as well as rheumatism and spasms caused by tetanus.
By the late 19th century, cannabis was a major part of British and American physicians’ pharmacopoeia, but that changed quickly at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act. The expensive taxes made cannabis much more expensive and difficult to obtain.
This vintage scoliosis back brace was a pain to wear, but straightened out many a patient
This old scoliosis back brace is visual proof for the way that medical science has changed for the better over the years. Early back braces were made of leather, rubber, metal and wood and while they did help straighten out the backs of scoliosis sufferers, they weren’t the most comfortable thing.
These braces fit around the around the torso, from underneath the arms and they strap around a person until they’re incredibly tight. Braces tended to work best when they were used by someone who was still growing. That way a spine could grow up straight as its not possible to straighten out a fully matured spine.
The optokinetic drum may look like a sci-fi prop, but it helped doctors test for motion sickness
This odd-looking machine is an optokinetic or catford drum. This contraption was used to test how susceptible a person is to motion sickness. In order to test for motion sickness the inside of the drum tends to be striped which creates a moving visual field as it spins around the subject, creating a phenomenon called optokinetic nystagmus.
After the drum finishes spinning subjects are watched to see how they react to motion sickness, if at all. In some instances the drum can lead to mood changes but that depends on environmental factors. Although how could you not experience a mood change after someone sticks you in a big spinning drum?
Vintage irrigating syringes that had to worry dental patients
Irrigating syringes are used to flush supra and subgingival areas with fluid to break up debris and plaque that hides inside all our teeth. They can help stop irritation and infection in our gums. These vintage irrigating syringes look like they’re fairly adept at flushing between teeth, although the metal bodies look like they have a fairly awful taste.
Thankfully, today’s irrigating syringes are much smaller and they tend to be made of plastic so they can fit farther in the mouth in order to clear out more oral decay. Still, it would be cool to have one of these giant syringes around to show off.
This vintage ear piercing instrument is a lot like modern ear piercing machines
Ear piercing as always been fairly simple, you just take a sharp implement (remember to sterilize folks) and poke it through your earlobe. Bingo, bango you’ve got a pierced ear. However, this early ear piercing instrument offers the ability to not push a needle too far through your ear. Users put their ear in the metal cuff, pushed the plunger and a sharp blade would shoot out. In some instances the blade would retract in order to keep from tearing the ear.
A similar item reminded users to purchase new needles with each piercing in order to keep things sterile. The instructions also told users to wear the needle in their ears rather than a small earring. If you’ve taken someone to have their ears pierced recently you know that’s not the case.
The terrifying tonsil guillotine often did more harm than good
If someone has their tonsils removed today they’re in and out of the hospital after a fairly minor procedure. There’s some throat pain, a lot of ice cream, and nothing too scary. That wasn’t the case in the late 1800s. At that time removing infected tonsils required the work of essentially a small guillotine. The tool would be placed in the throat and snip snip the tonsils were off.
Unfortunately there was a large amount of hemorrhaging that occurred with this apparatus and by the 20th century doctors had moved onto more precise implements that did away with the infected portion of the body while keeping the patient safe.
Vintage x-ray machines required up to an hour of a patient's time
Early x-ray machines were pieced together and powered by a series of coils that were powered with high levels of electricity. In order to get an accurate x-ray patients had to stand still for more than hour, introducing themselves to 1,500 times more radiation than modern x-ray machines. Modern machines only require 21 milliseconds, and technicians place lead coverings over the body to protect vital organs from this minor exposure.
Early machines like this contraption were pieced together by technicians and they put off a strange glow, which likely turned off many patients from stepping inside them.
The first EKG machine needed a full crew to operate
The first EKG machine was constructed by Dutch physiologist Willem Einthoven in 1903. In order to accurately measure the electrical activity of a human heart the early EKG machine used a thin filament of conductive wire that passed between electromagnets. As currents pass through the filament wire they create a magnetic field that cause the string to move.
Einthoven’s initial machine required a water cooling unit to keep the electromagnets from overheating and it required five people to operate. Even though modern EKG machines are much lighter and portable, they’re still quite similar to the version that Einthoven created.
Nurses practice operating a respiratory jacket that performs a similar function to an iron lung, circa 1938.
As President Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes, many men, women, and children were suffering from the debilitating respiratory issues that were kicked off by this virus. The respiratory jacket shown in this photo is one of the many pieces of technology that were created in order to help people survive this brutal problem.
The jacket required one person to operate a crank that worked the pump up and down in order to help a patient breathe. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but this invention and many others like it saved a lot of people from an untimely end.
The physician's surgical chair was meant to save space and provide a clean place to operate at the drop of a hat
Surgery for anyone in any time is stressful, but in the 19th century it was certainly a worrisome prospect. It goes without saying that doctors were nowhere near as equipped with the knowledge that surgeons and physicians have today so there was a major element of trust at play. In order to make patients as comfortable as possible, physicians used these chairs that looked like they belonged in parlor, but that concealed their tools.
Manufactured by the Miner & Elbreg Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, the “Perfection physician’s chair” hid a doctor’s instruments, including a speculum, and had a function that folded back in order to allow for uterine surgery.