Unusual Medical Treatments: Part II

If you thought that the extreme medical treatments involving urine, heroin and cigarette smoking were unbelievable, wait until you read this follow-up piece… except that one of the cures is still being used.

Psychic surgery
Actually used by the comedian, Andy Kaufmann in 1984, as a treatment for lung cancer, psychic surgery first came on the scene in the 1940s and 50s in Brazil and the Philippines.  Self-proclaimed healers often appear to remove ugly black leaves and other gruesome objects from the bodies of the ill.  While slight of hand is generally used to create the effect of spiritual intervention, the theoretical premise is that these objects were implanted as the result of dark magic or sorcery.

These cases of psychic surgery center around healers whose talents are said to be guided by powerful spirits.  Operations are performed without the benefit of anesthesia or antisepsis, under unsterile conditions, often without even the benefit of a knife. Blood appears. Tissue is removed. And yet, when the procedure is completed there is often no trace of a wound or an opening.

Early hemorrhoid suppository treatments
In 400 BC Hippocrates composed a treatise on the treatment of hemorrhoids.  In it he suggests a fanciful suppository concoction which he described this way, “the shell of the part fish a third part of plumbago, bitumen, alum, a little of the flos aeris, galls, a little verdigris; having poured a small quantity of boiled honey on these, and formed an oblong suppository, apply until you remove them.”

Medieval physicians used cautery irons to treat the problem.  Read more.

Maggot therapy
Maggots have been known for centuries to help heal wounds. Military surgeons noted that soldiers whose wounds became infested with maggots had better outcomes than those not infested. William Baer, while at Johns Hopkins University in the 1920s may have been the first in the Northern Hemisphere to have intentionally applied larvae to wounds in order to induce wound healing.

In many cases, the maggots can help treat festering wounds that have been open for weeks, even years, within only a day or two. While the treatment is pretty disgusting looking, patients rarely feel anything and when they do, it’s generally an itching or tickling sensation and nothing more. In January 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began regulating medicinal maggots, and allowed the production and marketing of one particular strain of Phaenicia sericata larvae marketed under the brand name Medical Maggots (TM)

Malaria therapy
Until the early 1900s, there was no treatment for the sexually transmitted disease (STD) when Viennese neurologist Wagner-Jauregg had the idea to treat syphilis patients with malaria-infected blood. The patients would then develop malaria, which would cause an extremely high fever that would destroy the syphilis bacteria. When that happened, they would be treated with the malaria drug quinine and cured of both ailments.

Of course, there were the side effects–such as the high fever, but they were worth the outcome, especially without any other options. Wagner-Jauregg even won the Nobel Prize for malaria inoculation in 1927, and the treatment was common until the development of penicillin came along and doctors had a safer and more efficient cure for the STD.

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