The strangest medical devices in history

Diving into the past to discover the most bizarre medical devices used by physicians.

Written Sunday, by Emanuele Mortarotti

Welcome back to the news page of Dispotech, your disposable excellence.

The history of medicine is studded with inventions through the centuries of rather bizarre medical devices: seeing them today inspires experts in the field (and those uninformed on the subject) to have a goodhearted laugh mixed with spine-tingling thrills. Some of the machines are truly terrifying simply to look at, and explanations on their usage is not lagging far behind; at the same time, they are a cause for reflection on how far we have come and how research is fundamental for advancing and improving the healthcare industry. Without technology, ultramodern machinery and materials that last a lifetime, what did physicians in the past use to help their patients feel better? This is the topic we will be discussing in this entertaining article, inspired by research published on!


A ‘peculiar’ remedy for cholera (and more)

When tobacco arrived from the New World, many physicians on the old continent were convinced that it possessed miraculous medical properties. In some strange way, word got around that tobacco might help fight any number of health problems, from simple seasonal colds to dangerous and deadly diseases such as cholera. How were treatments administered against the above diseases? Smoke produced by tobacco was directed towards the…backside! Exactly, you read correctly! It seems that this method was also used to quickly revive those who were victims of drowning and had large quantities of water in their lungs.

Shopkeepers quickly came up with a bona fide kit, equipped with pipettes and all the necessities for administering the smoke-based therapy; a trend, thankfully, that did not last for long and which was disproved a few decades later.


Radioactive water

Almost a century ago, shortly after the beginning of research in the field of radioactivity introduced by scientist Marie Curie, someone thought that it might be healthy to treat small ailments by adding radioactive components to drinking water (definitely a bad idea, don’t you agree?)

This conviction is believed to have taken hold because some natural springs contain radioactive water: the beneficial properties of hot spring water are renowned, thus leading to the belief that drinking surely could not be that bad for us. These contaminated waters exploded onto the market during the 1930s. The public opinion first (followed by the scientific community) began to question the so-called "radioactive waters" when American athlete Eben Byers died after developing a tumour due to the radium-enhanced water that he had been prescribed.


The “cage” for electrical discharge-based therapies

We know: the title of this paragraph in no way suggests anything that is therapeutic! This scary instrument, nonetheless, was used in France between 1890 and 1910 to treat persons who suffered from neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The patients would stand in the cage while electrical discharges passed through the wires that comprised the cage wall. It is not clear how being surrounded by electric shocks should have helped patients: what is certain, however, is that the discharges did not touch the people's skin, so no shock of any kind was caused.

“Smokey Susan”

Introducing Smokey Susan, a modern health educator who waged an important battle. This doll, conceived and promoted on the UK market, was used to raise the awareness of pregnant women on the importance of quitting smoking: among the effects, we can include spontaneous abortions, palatoschisis (better known as "cleft palate") and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But how exactly did the Susan doll work? One only needed to put a lit cigarette between its lips: the smoke was then channelled into a small glass jar containing water and a foetus model. As the cigarette was smoked, the water took on an unpleasant and alarming brownish colour, while the tar floating on the water was collected. A visual impact strategy, which in its own certain way produced positive effects.

We have now reached the conclusion of our article on history’s strangest medical devices! What do you think? Which ones intrigued you the most? Have your say by contacting Dispotech!

Emanuele Mortarotti
Author Emanuele Mortarotti


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