13 Horrifying Ancient Medical Devices That People Actually Used

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Vote up the most horrifying ancient or antiquated medical devices.

Going to the doctor nowadays might seem daunting, but it's nothing compared to what medicine was like centuries ago. Scary ancient medical devices range from vaguely-helpful-but-not-worth-the-risk to things that actually made your sickness worse. Some of them could even be deadly. Possibly most frightening, these dangerous ancient medical devices were completely accepted as the pinnacle of modern medicine at the time. That's bound yo make you feel at least a little thankful for the advances we've made today. 

That being, diseases of yesteryear weren't exactly well understood. The vapors were thought to be real, your humors had to be treated, and evil spirits were considered a cause of illness. It's no wonder some of these scary old medicines seem so shocking to us today.

So, if you feel like being a little morbid and historic, delve into horrifying ancient medicine. There are some pretty gruesome medical devices on here, so let's hope you have a strong stomach. 

  • 1
    2,832 VOTES

    Lithotome Caché

    Lithotome Caché
    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    Nothing about the lithotome caché is comfortable. The 18th century French device was used to remove kidney stones, a process during which a medical practitioner inserted a metal rod in your urethra as a catheter. Then, the doctor would make an incision directly into the membranous urethra, and insert the lithotome caché, within which were concealed blades. From the membranous urethra, the lithotome caché moves into the bladder, where it divides the neck of the bladder and prostate via a lever.

    Once the device was in place, forceps were used to remove the stone. 

    2,832 votes
  • 2
    2,152 VOTES

    Tongue Écraseur

    Tongue Écraseur
    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    The tongue écraseur might make you shudder. Let's say you have a tumor on your tongue or an infected portion of your tongue, and it's the early 1800s. Well, the good news is, it's treatable. The bad news is, someone's gonna cut off part of your tongue in a pretty terrifying way, using a tongue écraseur. The device consists of a chain within a metal tube, a looped portion of which protrudes from the end of the tube.

    This loop is placed around the infected part of the tongue and tightened until is slices away the malady. Enjoy the infection and permanent speech impediment. 

    2,152 votes
  • 3
    2,961 VOTES

    Fetal Destructors

    Fetal Destructors
    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    If you have a weak stomach, you may want to skip this one. Before caesarian sections were an option, due to anesthetic restraints, doctors had to make the choice between a fetus's life and a mother's. The choice was usually to save the mother. If the fetus was dead, medical practitioners inserted a metal rod with a sharp end, like a saw. They then cut up the fetus to remove it.

    If the fetus was near death, and would kill the mother upon removal, doctors used a fetal destructor to cut off the head. This was viewed as a humane option. Of course, one wrong move, and a mother could bleed out pretty easily. 

    2,961 votes
  • 4
    2,126 VOTES

    Trepanation Devices

    Trepanation Devices
    Photo: Peter Treveris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Trepanning has been around for thousands of years, and is used by cultures around the world. The ancient Greeks did it, the Aztecs did it, and, shockingly, this practice can still be found around the world today. It consists of making a hole in the skull, for medical or religious reasons. Some cultures thought this would release demons, others did it to relieve cranial pressure, or increase intelligence.

    No device used for trepanation is pretty. Many look like cookie cutters or blunt knives. As to how dangerous it was? No real antiseptic, no real anesthesia, and no real sterilization of instruments that are literally taking apart your skull. You do the math.

    2,126 votes
  • 5
    1,674 VOTES

    Chain Osteotome

    What's more terrifying than a chainsaw or a bone saw? How about an ungodly combination of the two? In the early 1800s, German inventor Bernard Heine created a bone saw with a crank for rotating the blades, basically a hand-operated chainsaw. Originally called the osteotome, the device is now referred to as the chain osteotome. 

    At the time of its invention, the chain osteotome was a medical marvel, and won a number of awards. Somewhat disturbingly, Heine conducted preliminary experiments on the effectiveness of his device on dogs. The surgical tool was used to cut through bone, at a time when anesthesia wasn't exactly perfect. Yeah, no thanks. 

    1,674 votes
  • 6
    1,408 VOTES

    The Bow Drill

    The Bow Drill
    Photo: Travis S. / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Dentistry has come a long way since the days of the Aztecs, but even those ancient Mezoamericans knew dental health was important, and they had to get rid of cavities and drill out infections. They, along with the Inca and Maya, did this with a bow drill

    Bow drills work like this: attach a metal tip to a stick, then loop string around the stick, and attach the string to a bow. Move the bow back and forth to make the spiked stick spin. Aztec, Incan, and Mayan dentists used such a device to drill teeth. Unfortunately, infections and other complications from such procedures using these drills could easily be deadly. 

    1,408 votes