Strange Medicine casts a gimlet eye on the practice of medicine through the ages that highlights the most dubious ideas, bizarre treatments, and biggest blunders. From bad science and oafish behavior to stomach-turning procedures that hurt more than helped, Strange Medicine presents strange but true facts and an honor roll of doctors, scientists, and dreamers who inadvertently turned the clock of medicine backward:
• The ancient Egyptians applied electric eels to cure gout.
• Medieval dentists burned candles in patients’ mouths to kill invisible worms gnawing at their teeth.
• Renaissance physicians timed surgical procedures according to the position of the stars, and instructed epileptics to collect fresh blood from the newly beheaded.
• Dr. Walter Freeman, the world’s foremost practitioner of lobotomies, practiced his craft while traveling on family camping trips, cramming the back of the station wagon with kids—and surgical tools—then hammering ice picks into the eye sockets of his patients in between hikes in the woods.
Strange Medicine is an illuminating panorama of medical history as you’ve never seen it before.
Belofsky (The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities) conjures horror and hilarity sometimes at the same time in this cheeky history of 2,400 years of doctors doing "more harm than good" and occasionally fumbling their way toward "Eureka!" Readers will be surprised to learn that some very important medical discoveries were near misses. Dr. Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, for example, lay moldering for a decade before scientists developed it into a lifesaving antibiotic. Of course, there are plenty of medical adventures that, alas, failed to advance knowledge of the subject: one medieval physician prescribed swaddling torture victims in the skin of a "newly killed animal." His most sage counsel? "If he is dead... do not attempt to treat." Belofsky notes, however, that medicine sunk to its lowest point during its "Heroic Era." In the late 1700s, Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, would strap patients to chairs, hang them from the ceiling, and spin them "like tops for hours on end." Modern medics weren't much kinder. In 1946, Dr. Walter Freeman introduced lobotomies, using ice picks from his kitchen to perform the procedure, and packing up the wife, kids, and picks for summer tours of national parks while he did surgeries at local hospitals. Makes a shot in the rear seem like a walk in the park with Dr. Walt.