The list you are about to read will make you cringe or laugh at the unbelievable things that passed for cures or prescriptions in the past. But don’t forget the past is also filled with great, ground-breaking medical discoveries that we still benefit from today. As you read, don’t also forget that this is the 21st century where the progress in science and technology leapfrogging beyond anyone’s control. If you were a doctor or patient in the past, you would gladly prescribe or take some of the prescriptions and cures below. You wouldn’t know any better, would you?
Greek Magical Papyri 7.185 says if you want erection to come up anytime you wish for it, mix up crushed pepper in honey and smear your willy. Our comment: we tried it and it worked. Try to see your doctor before you try it out. If you are too in a hurry to see your doctor before you try it, we guarantee you will go to your doctor in a hurry after trying it. You probably saw where that was going, didn’t you? 
To cure leprosy, doctors in the Middle Ages say to bathe in the blood of: a dog, a two-year-old child, or a virgin. This is a dilemma. Which should we protect most: our lovely dogs, amazing two-year-old children, or our beautiful pure virgin sisters? To protect one is to make it scarce and increase the search for the other two. Arrrrh!
According to John Schroder’s “History of Animals as they are Useful in Physic and Chirugery,” to get rid of health-damaging kidney stones, make a decoction of the urine of a young boy who has drunk a good wine, distill it with cow feces, and mix the result (what “Dr.” Schroder called “spirit of urine”) with phlegm. The eminent “Doctor” Schroder also believes this concoction is a “universal cure.
Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a wise physician who thought it’s better to die of mercurial poisoning than to die of syphilis. Don’t blame him. He didn’t know any better. Paracelsus recommended mercury skin inunctions or
ointments as the cure for syphilis. Here is how it works:
“A patient undergoing the treatment was secluded in a hot, stuffy room, and rubbed vigorously with the mercury ointment several times a day. The massaging was done near a hot fire, which the sufferer was then left next to in order to sweat. This process went on for a week to a month or more, and would later be repeated if the disease persisted. Other toxic substances, such as vitriol and arsenic, were also employed, but their curative effects were equally in doubt.” When you receive that kind of treatment, you know where you stand—at the gate of Heaven.
As you read this, you may think snake bite is nothing, because even your feisty, curious niece—who only learns by trial and error—can cure it within a twinkle of an eye. But curing snake bite wasn’t that simple in the past. You don’t believe that? Read this story we retold about a snakebite incident in Australia in 1868. Some Victorian railway workers killed a brown snake at Elsternwick Station and, for some foolish reason (we believe), threw its body to stationmaster John Brown. By some quirk of misfortune, Brown got envenomnated.
Brown was rushed to a surgeon called George Arnold. Bad day. Arnold tied a tourniquet around Brown’s arm and started slicing out the spot, trying to somehow slice out the venom. That’s what surgeons do. Go on, Arnold. Our professional surgeon then poured ammonia (yeah, ammonia) on the well-sliced flesh. Don’t blame him. He was trying to neutralize the remnant of the venom. He had to. Next, Arnold made Brown drink 175mL of brandy to stimulate Brown’s circulation. You see, everything will be fine. Just believe. Next move, please! Arnold (sorry, Dr. Arnold) inflicted several electric shock on Brown and then marched him up and down to keep him awake and alive. Long story short, Brown didn’t get better. That’s not the end of the story, but we believe you get the point—that a 19th century surgeon tried to cure snakebite with poison (ammonia), flesh cutting, and electric shocks.
This list won’t be complete if we leave out the almighty bloodletting. In Medieval Europe, and later in the newly founded nation, America, bloodletting was the cure for almost every disease. It was the cure-all drug for gangrene, insanity, acne, leprosy, cholera, plague, gout, scurvy, and tuberculosis. The idea is simple: if you want to cure your patients of any of the diseases mentioned a sentence back, just puncture your patient’s vein so blood can flow out. When you have decided the extent to which the blood should flow out, you can then stop the outflow. It’s pretty much simple, huh? Yeah, it’s so simple that barbers are well-known expert at it.
On December 12, 1799 when the supposed first president of the United States succumbed to sickness, he refused to let his wife take him to the hospital and he won’t use drugs. He requested that he be treated with bloodletting. He thought the story would end well. He would be fine. The story didn’t end well. Not that it could have ended well, anyway. Washington’s “doctors” (barbers maybe) drained 7.9 pints of his blood; half of his blood, that is. In the end, Washington was happy to die. What’s life when half of your blood had been drained? Rest in peace, Washington.
To treat disorders of the liver and spleen fractures, contusions, paralysis, migraine, epilepsy, sore throats, nausea, abscesses, , and internal ulcers, Middle Age folks eat parts of ancient Egyptian mummies, and also use the parts as medicinal creams. In no time, mummy trafficking became a lucrative and highly organized business. The business started in Egyptian tombs and followed organized routes to Europe. We only have con business men to thank for putting an end to the mummy medicine. In the late 17th century, the demand for mummy medicine became unpopular when people discovered that dealers sell “fake” mummy made from recently murdered slaves.
The seventeenth-century German surgeon Wilhelm Hilden was an exceptionally skilled surgeon with a lot of achievements to his credit. To mention a few, he was the first to recommend amputation for gangrene. He was the first to perform a successful above-the-knee amputation with a reasonable survival rate. He also invented some surgical instruments. It will be unfair and amounts to reducing the number of his many achievements if we don’t mention that he also prescribed a bizarre balm for wounds. The balm is to be applied not to the wound, but to the knife that caused the wound, and if the knife cannot be found, apply the balm to the clothes of the one who has the wound. Whatever you do, just don’t apply the balm to the wound you want to heal. The balm itself is made from powdered mummy, earthworms, iron oxide, pig brains, and moss from the skull of a man who had been hanged under the sign of Venus.