During the inventive 19th century, the world saw a boom of sorts in medical breakthroughs. Anything and everything you could possibly have a problem with had a bizarre and often damaging remedy to cure, numb, or relieve your ailing body. Typhoid? There was a cure for that and the cure created just about the same effect as the illness…death. There were even some “physicians” who believed they could cure cancer of all things! However, to give you all a small understanding of the way the 19th century worked when it came to understanding illnesses and how to treat them, I will have to give a small, yet hysterical, history lesson.
History of 19th Century Medicine
To begin with, medical science has never been exact! I must emphasize this or nothing about what I say will make much sense. Doctors during this time were most likely pupils of the masters of the Age of Enlightenment and were eager to make a difference in the world of medicine even if that meant jumping into dangerous territory.
But what could go wrong? You have such problems as cholera, rheumatism, and male impotency (a very common problem by the by) that drastic situations required some rather curious cures. For example, there was a craze for American Indian treatments. Who wouldn’t trust a tonic called Snake Oil I ask? Yet that is nothing compared to the wonders of Patent Medicines.
Patents were treatments for all types of ailments that contained…anonymous substances. This is also a misnomer since most of these drugs had little to no approval from any type of government agency in any country they were produced. Believe it or not, the “mysterious” ingredients in these potions were considered a high selling point and this exotic treatment of the products sent sales through the roof. It might have helped that most of these ingredients were highly addictive substances I’d wager.
And so we come to the first major, incredible, unbelievable universal blunder in the history of the world : Heroin. At first, no one really understood the true danger this drug had and, apparently, neither did Bayer. You know Bayer right? That wonderful aspirin medicine that people still take. Well, what’s wrong with a little heroin now and then? Heroin wasn’t alone though! Oh, no! He had some wonderful friends that joined in such as codeine, opium, cannabis and cocaine! Here are a few of those marvelous tonics and medicines that got the 19th century off it’s feet and high as a kite.
Bayer Heroin Cough Suppressant
Nothing says calming throat and cough relief like a few drops of heroin! We know just how pesky and uncomfortable coughing can be, that’s why the geniuses at Bayer have marketed, for the first time in history, this miracle drug created by a German chemist and promoted it as a lovely cure for cough…and morphine addiction. That’s right! No more addiction for you my friend because heroin is 100% harmless and addiction free! It’s the safest thing on the market!
Cocaine Toothache Drops
It says all you need right on the box! Instant relief! Is your tooth sore because the dental hygiene during this time period is so poor that most people have already resorted to bone dentures? Has that black cavity in the back of your mouth been causing you problems for far too long? No worries! Cocaine toothache drops are popular with the kids and you’re sure to love them too! Not only will the medicine numb the pain, but it could also put you in a curiously better mood.
Burnett’s Extracts : Cocaine Hair Dressing
Are the uses for cocaine endless? One thing a proper Victorian needed was proper hair! You can’t just waltz around having small, almost unnoticeable flakes cascading from your week washed tresses could you? Well, no more with this marvelous cocaine hair treatment! No matter that the cocaine was seeping into your pores and giving you that nice fresh tingle at the end of every use…that just means the drug entered your bloodstream!
Vin Mariani : Coca Wine
A miracle wine, nay…a tonic! What a brilliant concoction! Wine with cocaine? Who doesn’t like wine? Let’s combine alcohol with drugs, it works wonders on you paranoia and nerves! Besides, it is endorsed by the Pope! What could be more official than that? You can’t buy publicity like that!
Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup
Children Soothing Syrups are not just a desired product, they are something of a necessity for most Victorian parents! You have to worry about society and keeping up with growing trends of the day and your screaming, fussing teething child is not very high on your list of problems. Luckily, Mrs. Winslow solved your problem for you! With a solution like Soothing Syrups, your child is the last thing you have to worry about! With marvelous ingredients such as morphine, codeine, heroin, and opium there is no need to worry! When you need to sleep, your child will sleep…all day…no problem.
Opium Vapor Oil Treatment No. 6
Because 1 through 5 didn’t work as well! The best way to take opium (based on the Chinese methods) was to smoke it. Yet one clever man said, ‘Hey, I bet if it was vaporized it would seem like a medical treatment!’. (Out of context, but does anyone remember that scene in Crocodile Dundee when he puts the man’s cocaine in a bowl of water and tells him to breathe because he thought it was for a cold? Same…absolutely the same thing!) But remember! You have to use the special vaporizer that is sold separately in order to make the opium vapor an actual medicine and not an addiction!
Other Types of Bizarre Medical Treatments
It wasn’t just the strange ingredients in medicine that made the 19th century remedies so very strange and unique, it was the actual treatments themselves. For example, some medicines cured nothing but they were meant to help your nerves, invigorate your sex drive, or just be an all around reliever. Even Coca Cola was used as a medicine for energy and vitality.
Yet sometimes, old remedies are still the best. Leeches were sold for treatment of blood diseases and are still uses to this very day in hospitals as a way to reattach limbs and fingers. These were not uncommon since it was still customary to be treated at home with your own utensils and tables, so leeches were not a weird thing to see.
As I said, there were many problems that persisted in the 19th century that were not uncommon but very unique at the time.
Humanity has been fascinated by electricity ever since the first spark was made! They ate it up in the 1800’s and couldn’t get enough of it! Since it was such a new science, like all things new, they thought it was a wonder drug in itself. During it’s height, electricity was being used for everything and the amount of evidence pouring out from advertisements and products is astounding!
Male Impotency Belt
A stand out on this small list! Men, don’t think you get out that quickly! You had a small love affair with electricity as well. In order to enhance libido, many men resorted to electrifying…a place that it really shouldn’t be electrified! A belt with a proverbial noose was tethered to the nether regions and worn until arousal was met. I believe a small funeral should have followed!
West’s Electric Cure
I’m actually not too sure what on earth this is supposed to be or how it works, but it is a battery of some type and it is supposed to cure…just about everything! A battery of electricity in a bottle? I don’t know about anyone else, but I am not sure if that is supposed to be good. Whatever! To a person in the 19th century, if it was in the drugstore and it said it could cure something, I bet people took a…risky, life threatening chance.
And Now…The Oddest Medical Sickness and Cure
Upon my research of 19th century remedies, I came across a gem. Something that has been written about with medical fever enthusiastically during the 1800’s but phased out in the 20th century. Something so dire in nature that there was no hope of a cure, merely a relief from the symptoms. Female Hysteria.
Oh yes! Doctors actually had a name for a woman’s crazy, erratic behavior. Her sass, her faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, muscle spasms, shortness of breath, irritability…all these things are explained as hysteria. A women suffering from hysteria might show symptoms such as back talking, laughing at her husband, or throwing a book at a tree. And there was but one cure, but many treatments. Legit treatments!
In order for a woman to be helped with her hysteria, they had to orgasm. And where is the best place for it? Your doctors office of course! It was a procedure which involved pelvic message and the doctor would do this until hysterical paroxysm was achieved. Yet, after awhile, since woman came in almost every week for treatments since this was a chronic illness and had to be treated very often, doctors found a way to relieve their work load.
There were also numerous devices created to help rid women of their female hysteria and you can probably still find them today in Amsterdam! Electricity has been used for many different things. It has made our world brighter. But for Victorian women suffering from hysteria…electricity truly made her day brighter! And those proper Victorian times…no one ever batted an eyelash!
With all the hoopla bouncing around with medical science today, I feel we should take a step back in time for awhile. Get back to our roots! Show our creative side. I mean, apparently someone in the 19th century came up with a cure for cancer…why don’t we give the world a sliver of hope that we really can do the things we said we could…just without heroin.