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We're Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass

Curious Medical Treatments

If you could time travel to what you believe to be some romantic past era and got ill, you would quickly appreciate how far medicine has advanced in just the past 100 years. Here is our top ten list of odd remedies of yore.

1. The phrase “blowing smoke up your ass” is used to describe insincere compliments to someone by saying what they want to hear, like “you’re so smart” or “your hair looks awesome.” However, in the late 1700s doctors actually did blow smoke up people’s asses with a bellows, most commonly to revive half-dead drowning victims. The smoke was thought to dry out and warm the person’s insides and the nicotine would encourage respiration. In London ass bellows were hung along the Thames River so they’d be close by for public use.

If a bellows wasn’t available anything handy might be used, like a gentleman’s smoking pipe. One of the earliest references to this was in 1746 when a man’s wife was nearly drowned and lay unconscious. The husband took a pipe full of burning tobacco and shoved the stem into his wife’s butt, covered the other end of the pipe with his mouth and blew as hard as he could. Hot embers of burning tobacco shot up her ass and she was indeed revived.

2. HE’S GOT A HOLE IN HIS HEAD refers to a crazy person. That would be trepanation, when holes were drilled into the head of a person who was behaving in an abnormal way to let out the evil spirits.

3. One treatment for the plague in 1504 Venice was to drink a quarter-pint of a healthy child’s urine mixed with a spoon of molasses every morning for three days.

4. To treat a sebaceous cyst on the scalp or face in 1651 you were to rub it several times daily with hand of a dead man.

5. Mice have been used from ancient Egypt to Elizabethan England for various cures: bedwetting children were forced to eat live mice (telling them first probably scared the piss out them); Egyptians put mice in their mouth as a toothache remedy; and a cure for warts in England was to cut a mouse in half and apply it to the wart.

6. 18th and 19th century doctors treated stuttering by cutting off half the tongue.

7. Beginning in 1899 you could buy the over-the-counter miracle drug HEROIN to ease pain or to cure coughs, asthma, bronchitis or tuberculosis. Manufactured by BAYER, it was claimed to be 10 times more powerful than morphine, have no toxic effects and was “completely non-addictive,” which of course was false. Ironically, morphine was used to treat people addicted to opium but proved even more addictive. Heroin was used to treat people addicted to morphine and it proved far more addictive than the other two. By 1913 the number of heroin addicts had skyrocketed to a point that BAYER stopped producing the drug.

8. England and Ireland had a few good remedies for sore throats that were widely used until the 20th century. These included wrapping your neck in dirty socks, applying salted herring to the soles of your feet or sleeping with raw bacon tied around your neck.

9. Here’s another old English remedy, this is for boils. Apply a poultice cloth to the boil and let sit. Then remove it, dig up a grave and place the cloth poultice in a coffin with a corpse, close lid and cover with dirt. Within a few days the boil should leave you and pass on to the dead person.

10. In the early 20th century, French doctor Serge Voronoff, reportedly improved the sexual vigor of millionaires by transplanting the balls of executed young convicts in them. Unfortunately, the supply of executed convicts couldn’t meet the demand so Dr. Voronoff started grafting slices of monkey testicles onto the balls of his patients instead. The celebrated Dr. Voronoff was quite in vogue in 1920s Paris and by the early 1930s thousands of men had monkey balls. Eventually, skeptical doctors and scientists proved the human body rejected the animal tissue and that the treatment had no effect at all. Voronoff went from celebrated to ridiculed overnight.

BONUS: An excellent American remedy comes from Dr. Ritter’s 1910 book Mother’s Home Remedies. Dr. Ritter suggests the cure for nosebleeds is to strap ice to your scrotum, or your breasts if you’re a female, raise your arms over your head and have someone simultaneously shoot saltwater into your nostrils with a syringe.

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