Graveyard Shift 10 Horrifying Medical Procedures Doctors Actually Practiced In The 19th Century  

Amanda Sedlak-Hevener
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The 19th century is known for many things, including the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria and the US Civil War. Coming on the heels of the Enlightenment and firmly encapsulating the Industrial Revolution,  the 19th century saw the advent of many new innovations, some of which affected the now-discredited medicinal practices that were common during this period. These gruesome medical practices included everything from the ingestion of poisonous substances to the application of leeches. Another horrible treatment from the 1800s was bloodletting. If you're sitting there and asking yourself what bloodletting is, then just read on to find out... 

They Drilled Holes In Skulls To Improve General Health


They Drilled Holes In Skulls T... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Horrifying Medical Procedures Doctors Actually Practiced In The 19th Century
Photo: James Scott-Brown/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

Trepanning is a medical treatment that involved cutting holes in the skull with a circular device in order to improve a patient's general health. If trepanning is done right, the brain usually isn't touched, making this procedure quite different from the brain scrambling that is lobotomy. Interestingly, trepassing is still used today to treat skull fractures and brain swelling, as opposed to its "general" use in the 19th century. Moreover, during the 1800s, there were no antibiotics, few sterilized surgical tools, and only the beginnings of painkillers, making this treatment rather horrific. 

They Took Mercury To Treat STDs


They Took Mercury To Treat STD... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Horrifying Medical Procedures Doctors Actually Practiced In The 19th Century
Photo: StormbloodCuriosities/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Calomel was a drug given to people in order to purge their bodies of whatever was making them sick. In general, it was used to kill bacteria, and it was especially prevalent in the treatment of STDs. Unfortunately, the main ingredient in Calomel is mercury, which is extremely poisonous. Some of the side effects of this drug include bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, shortness of breath, and even brain damage. But hey, you don't have an STD anymore.

They Gave Babies Cocktails Of Alcohol And Morphine


They Gave Babies Cocktails Of ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Horrifying Medical Procedures Doctors Actually Practiced In The 19th Century
Photo: By Miami U. Libraries - Digital Collections/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The rise of pre-made medicinal concoctions was one of the hallmarks of the 19th century. Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup is a good example of this. The "potion" was sold over the counter at pharmacies as a treatment for infants who were teething or colicky. The two main ingredients in the syrup - which was sold from 1845 up through 1930 - were alcohol and morphine. While neither were fatal (unless too much was given), it is disturbing to think that the children were calmed by this treatment due to its extremely sedative ingredients. 

The Drained Blood In Order To Balance The Body Out


The Drained Blood In Order To ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Horrifying Medical Procedures Doctors Actually Practiced In The 19th Century
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Phlebotomy, also known as bloodletting, was a normal medical procedure during the 19th century. At the time, doctors still believed that the human body was made up of the four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, and they thought that illnesses were caused by an overabundance of one of them. Therefore, removing blood from the body would reduce the imbalance and cure the issue. However, it wasn't just doctors who performed the procedure - some barbers placed it on the list of things they could do, alongside haircuts and shaves.