I have said for many years now that I would rock a game show. I am constantly hungry for facts and random knowledge. Some of my favorite nonfiction books are the kind that satisfy my thirst for little known facts on a wide variety of topics. I love sharing my endless supply of useless knowledge with others. They will react with an expression that can only be explained as a question mark. How can you know that? Well duh. I READ!
I will share with you my recent foray into useless knowledge with Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.
The title alone ‘A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything’ appeals to me; mainly the phrase ‘worst ways’. Of course I HAVE TO KNOW what the worst ways to cure medical issues. From reading this book I now know where the phrase “blow smoke up your ass” originates from. I learned more about the ridiculous practice of bloodletting and more famous victims it caused. I was introduced to the fascinatingly horrible British surgeon Robert Liston, aka “the fastest knife in the West End’. I will expand on these new useless knowledge acquisitions below!
Back in the day, enemas were believed to cure EVERYTHING. So it is no wonder that tobacco smoke enemas were actually a thing. Of course now, our immediate reaction to a tobacco smoke enema is…
British doctors actually began using tobacco smoke enemas for the resuscitation of the drowned. That’s right. They believed that blowing smoke up your arse would bring you back to life after you drowned in the River Thames. An actual group of doctors carrying smoke enema kits would search the Thames for drowning victims. It didn’t take long to realize that this was a fool’s errands because after the smoke enema proved fruitless they went with their second resuscitation option; which was one that we are much more familiar with today.
Bloodletting was also another method that was thought to cure EVERYTHING. Feeling under the weather? Let’s bleed you. You have a belly ache? Let’s bleed you. Are you sneezing? Let’s take all your blood. The thought behind bloodletting was that if you were feeling sick your body was full of “bad humors”. The only cure was to release those “bad humors”. George Washington sadly was a victim of bloodletting. What started out as a fever led to Washington being bled of five to nine pints of blood. In Quackery, I learned that Charles II of England was a victim of bloodletting. Charles II began experiencing “fits” which led to a slew of “cures” and “treatments” forced on him. Charles II had countless enemas, plasters of pigeon poop applied to his feet and had to eat the gallstone of an East Indian goat. Sadly, none of these worked out.
Robert Liston was a crazy character known as “the fastest knife in the West End”. It is important to know that back in the 1840s, surgery was another version of theater for people. Surgeries were performed before a gallery of gawkers including both fellow doctors and ordinary people. Robert Liston was famous for his quick amputations which took less than three minutes. Mind you amputations back then were done without anesthesia. Was a Robert Liston amputation always done correctly? Absolutely not. While amputating a patient he sawed off a testicle. One surgery went terribly wrong in more ways than one. Liston sawed off an assistant’s finger who later died from gangrene and the patient later died. It is important to know that sanitary conditions were non-existent back then. In fact, the more bloody and puss covered your apron the better the surgeon.
Eager to fill your brain with useless knowledge? Here are some of my recent favorites!