Can You Believe People Used to Do This for Health?

4 min read

Gather round guys.

Can you imagine how hard it was to access health services in the past? No? Let me share Just but a few of the bizarre medical practices drawn across cultures. Spoiler alert- you will ask “How did these guys survive!” after every mini-episode.


Picture this. You visit a hospital and the physician just punctures your vein and watches you bleed into a receptacle until you feel better. Did I hear a yikes? Yes, that is the right reaction!

Apparently, bloodletting began with the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, but it didn’t become common practice until the time of classical Greece and Rome. Influential physicians like Hippocrates and Galen maintained that the human body was filled with four basic substances, or “humors”—yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood—and these needed to be kept in balance to maintain proper health. With this in mind, patients with a fever or other ailment were often diagnosed with an overabundance of blood. To restore bodily harmony, their doctor would simply cut open a vein and drain some of their vital fluids into a receptacle. In some cases, leeches were even used to suck the blood directly from the skin. Of course, there was collateral, bad with time the met hide was ditched as more patients died than recovered. However, this procedure is done today for some very rare health conditions.


This practice is 7,000 years old. Trepanation, the practice of boring holes in the skull as a means of curing illnesses was believed to be a conventional surgery for treating epilepsy, headaches, abscesses, and blood clots. Trepanned skulls found in Peru hint that it was also a common emergency treatment for cleaning out bone fragments left behind by skull fractures, and evidence shows that many of the patients survived the surgery. It’s a wonder they survived.

Using Animal Dung.

 You are probably familiar with using this (I saw my grandmother use cow urine to disinfect cuts; I imagine this concept is so new to you). I however think that the Egyptians took this way too far. These guys used lizard blood, dead mice, mud, and moldy bread as topical ointments and dressings, and women were sometimes dosed with horse saliva as a cure for an impaired libido.

Most disgusting of all, Egyptian physicians used human and animal excrement as a cure-all remedy for diseases and injuries. According to 1500 B.C. Beers Papyrus, donkey, dog, gazelle, and fly dung were all celebrated for their healing properties and their ability to ward off bad spirits. While these repugnant remedies may have occasionally led to tetanus and other infections, they probably weren’t entirely ineffective—research shows the microflora found in some types of animal dung contain antibiotic substances.

Babylonian Skull Cure.

This is the weirdest of them all. For the ancient Babylonians, most illnesses were thought to be the result of demonic forces or punishment by the gods for past misdeeds. Doctors often had more in common with priests and exorcists than modern physicians, and their cures usually involved some component of magic. For example, if a patient ground their teeth, the healer might suspect that the ghost of a deceased family member was trying to contact them as they slept. According to ancient necromantic texts, the doctor would recommend sleeping by a human skull for a week as a way of exorcising the spirit. To ensure this disturbing treatment worked, the tooth-grinder was also instructed to kiss and lick the skull seven times each night.

Let us always remember that there was some dude who had to turn in his bed and kiss a skull to get better lest we forget and fail to appreciate the steps we have taken to make healthcare accessible. Thank heavens for telehealth and every technological advancement in this field. It could’ve been worse!

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