Massage, aromatherapy, chiropractic care, nutritional therapy, yoga - all these practices often get lumped together under the umbrella of “alternative medicine”. Generally speaking, any type of physical self-care to promote health that doesn’t include physically walking into a doctor’s office can, in some way, be considered “alternative”. We’ve come a long way in the past several hundred years when it comes to our understanding of the human body, how it works, and how to fix the various bumps, cuts, and sicknesses that can develop in a person’s lifetime. In the spirit of the spooky season, we decided to share with you some of the most gut-wrenching and outrageous forms of medicine in human history. Buckle up, folks. It’s gonna get real, real fast.
If you’re familiar with Greek at all, you may recognize the prefix “helio” means “related to the sun”. So, heliotherapy is quite literally “sun therapy”. In the 1800s, children who were diagnosed with lupus or tuberculosis were sent to special facilities to receive this special type of medicine in which groups of children would stand nearly nude in a circle around an incredibly bright sun lamp. Photos make it look like a strange cult, or UFO abduction. Despite the heavy odd factor of the therapy, the children’s skin would produce large amounts of vitamin D due to such extreme exposure, and the treatment was helpful in battling these diseases.
Lice are more of an uncomfortable and annoying inconvenience these days than anything close to life-threatening. Snag some lice-killing shampoo from the drugstore and boom, lice-free shortly thereafter. If you happened to catch lice in the early 1900s, though, you could look forward to your noggin being doused in gasoline. Sure, it killed the lice, but uh… Maybe avoid flames of any kind? Which might be hard considering electricity wasn’t commonplace in US homes until after 1925.
The gruesome act of either cutting a hole in the skull and injecting ethanol into the brain or inserting an ice pick through the eye into the brain and jostling it around as an effort to “cure” mentally ill individuals. Most commonly performed on women as, of course, an angry or fiercely independent woman MUST be mentally ill in the early 1900s. Lobotomies were recorded to have been utilized all the way through the 1950s, so it’s not as “long lost” as other inhumane treatments, but thankfully it is incredibly illegal today.
Called “corpse-medicine” in recordings, it wasn’t at all uncommon to be prescribed medicine made of human blood, bone, or parts of organs. King Charles II often drank a concoction known as “King’s Drops” made of powdered human skull and alcohol. The Romans believed that ingesting the remains of a fallen warrior could cure epilepsy. It was usually prescribed under the understanding that by consuming a person’s physical self, you also gained the strength of their spirit.
It sounds absolutely outlandish in today’s standards, but believe me when I tell you the ancient Grecians legitimately believed that a woman’s uterus had a mind of it’s own and could (and would) roam about a woman’s body if not calmed. Yeah, you read that right. Wombs were described as a “living animal” so desperate to have a baby that if left unhappy, it would intentionally cause seizures, migraines, and suffocation. To prevent an angry womb murdering a woman from the inside, young Greek women were heavily encouraged to marry as young as possible and start poppin’ out kiddos immediately after. What a life!
Holy smokes! Next time I reach for my bottle of ibuprofen, I’ll probably say a silent “thank you” to the physicians who sat down and were like, “this sh*t is bonkers, let’s come up with a new plan.”
Happy Halloween month, everyone!