15 Photos Of Medicine In The 1800s That Will Make You Glad You Were Born Now


Modern medicine isn’t perfect and there are plenty of people wandering about that wish it were better. However, it has to be said that compared to days gone by; modern medicine is a miracle. It’s not so long ago that medicine was barely based on science and everything from curing simple diseases to surgery was a hit and miss process. In the 1800s, if you were unlucky enough to need a doctor or a surgeon – you’d be lucky to escape with your life. Check out these fifteen photos of medicine in the 1800s and see what we mean:

#15 No Anaesthetic


Yes, these fine gentlemen are about to attempt to saw this poor man’s leg off to try and save his life. Unfortunately for him, back in those days, they had no access to anaesthetic drugs. The gentleman on the right is holding a cloth dampened with ether to try and keep the patient insensible during the process. Ouch.

#14 Fancy Some Radioactivity?


Medicines were simply made up remedies. The 19th century was when any snake oil salesman could make a living. This bottle shows water containing radioactive radium; it was supposed to cure colds and flu. We think we’ll pass all the same. There are worse things than the sniffles – like cancer.

#13 Amputees Had It Hard


Amputation was a common practice to save lives and while it continues today in special circumstances, antibiotics can often prevent it from being necessary. After amputation, a wealthy amputee might be fitted with a crudely made prosthetic limb like this one. It would have been very uncomfortable and awkward to use.

#12 Don’t Have A Heart Attack


This machine is exactly what it appears to be; a precursor of the modern defibrillator. The idea is simple, the two paddles are placed on either side of the patient’s heart and then electricity is passed through them to restart the heart. It might look strange but this was probably very effective.

#11 Childcare Was A Touch Zany


005--11-childcare-was-a-touch-zany-443557If you thought adult care in the 1800s was ridiculous; then here’s an example of bizarre childcare to even the score. These babies are being treated for rickets which is actually caused by a lack of Vitamin D, phosphorous or calcium. It’s still a very common childhood disease today in developing nations.

#10 What Do You Want? Blood?


This isn’t as bad as it appears. In modern hospitals, blood is given to a patient from a plastic bag in which it is stored. Before the invention of plastics, glass bottles were used instead. Sure, it looks like something that might be found in a wine maker’s home today but the idea is perfectly sound.

#9 Early Prosthetics


This unlucky lady lost her leg and then had it replaced with something that looks almost cyborg-like to our modern eyes. It’s unlikely to have functioned very well as a replacement and it would have been incredibly uncomfortable to use. She’s hiding her face from modesty because a glimpse of her leg was once considered to be shockingly immodest.

#8 Serious Backache


This crude and bizarre device was designed to help the young lady with her back problems. We can’t imagine that it was very successful. Pulling someone’s head up straight and restraining their arms and forcing them to propel a heavy, crude cart seems like it would be completely ineffective based on what we know now.

#7 Bad Back Problems


Scoliosis, if you don’t know, is a curvature of the spine. It can cause motion impairment and pain. But we’re not sure that the cure is any better than the condition. Here we see a “doctor” trying to straighten a lady’s back using what appears to be an instrument of torture.

#6 A Happy Occasion?


Obstetrics isn’t a new discipline but the ladies will be breathing a sigh of relief that things have advanced somewhat since the 1800s. This is a birthing chair and a woman would have been expected to sit in it and the baby delivered through the gap between her legs.

#5 Ladies First


The ethics of medicine were still developing back then and when it came to treating women, it was difficult for a male doctor to examine them. To ensure that their symptoms were understood – women would have to point out where their problems were on anatomically accurate (sort of) dolls before treatment.

#4 A Not So Easy Ride


You can probably guess that this was an early attempt at building a wheelchair. Why somebody thought it would be a good idea to have the patient lying vertically rather than in a sitting position is anybody’s guess. It would have been very hard for the patient to operate from this position.

#3 An Alien Invasion?


While this might look like a shot from an early sci-fi movie; it’s actually rather more mundane. This “protective gear” was supposed to prevent exposure to harmful radiation in the hospital. It seems unlikely that it was entirely successful in its objectives but it probably made the wearer feel safer.

#2 Welcome To Walter Reed


This photo is an unusual one from the Walter Reed hospital archives. It’s an early attempt to provide physiotherapy but what they were trying to achieve is beyond anybody’s best guess nowadays. These men certainly don’t seem to be having any fun with it, do they? Check their scowls.

#1 Restraints Were Basic


This disturbing photo was shot inside an old mental institution. Back in those days there was no straightjacket or special room to stop people from hurting themselves; so they would wrap a patient up in wet bedsheets and then tie them to the bed to prevent them from harming themselves or others.

We often grumble when we have to go and see a doctor. We know that we’d rather be anywhere else than a hospital or doctor’s surgery because we’re still not 100% convinced that modern medicine is up to scratch. The good news is that we’ve come a long way in a very short period of time. You no longer have to worry about having a limb removed without anaesthetic or being harnessed to a crude device to have your back straightened.

It’s time to be thankful for what we have and spend less time complaining about going to the hospital and more time being relieved it’s no longer the 1800s.


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