8 Medical Devices From The Past That Were Downright Scary

When my Doctor asked me to undergo an MRI last year, it didn’t end well.
Being claustrophobic, I begged to be let out after about five minutes that seemed like an eternity and emerged, white and shaking.

Suffice it to say that this traumatic experience taught me just how scary medical devices and instruments are.

But you know what’s worse? The ones they used before the 20th century.
Take a look for yourselves.

1. Artificial Leeches (1840 – Early 1900s)

Bloodletting was considered to be a cure for a lot of ailments in the past, but the 1800s, people swapped live leeches for this metal cylinder with rotating blades that cut into the skin, while the tube suctioned the blood out.

A similar tool, called a scarificator, used up to 10 spring-loaded blades.

2. Osteotome (1830 – Early 1900s)

Amputations or procedures that required cutting into the bone used to be both painful and risky.

Because of the hammers, chisels and saws used, there was a high chance of splintering and the tissue damage until 1830, when Bernhard Heine introduced the osteotome – a device with a chain and sharp cutting teeth.

3. Iron Lung Respirator (1927 – Early 2000s)

One of the first life-support machines, iron lungs were a blessing to polio victims whose breathing muscles had been paralysed by the disease.

But though many patients recovered after spending only minutes inside, other less fortunate victims spent their entire lives attached to the machine.

4. Lithotome (1740s – 1830s)

This long, claw-like instrument was used to break up, grip and pull out bladder stones from a person who was no doubt in a lot of pain.

It was inserted up the urethra and into the bladder while the patient was awake, and there was a high chance of the bladder being sliced in the process.

5. Ecraseur (1880 – 1902)

This instrument was used in the treatment of ovarian tumours and haemorrhoids in the 1870s. Its wire loop was placed around the base of the unwanted growth and gradually tightened to stop the blood supply and sever it off.

6. Arrow Remover (1600s)

Not much is known about this tool from the 1500s, except that it was inserted into the wound in a contracted position, with the central shaft used to grasp the arrow.

The blades were then expanded using the scissor-like handles to create a clear exit and prevent the arrowhead from ripping through the flesh as it was pulled out.

7. Bullet Extractor (1500s)

The warring centuries also produced another tool – these elongated bullet extractors.

The screw tip would be inserted in the wound and lengthened to pierce the bullet so that it could be pulled out even if it was deeply embedded in a person’s body.

8. Tonsil Guillotine (1866 – Early 1900s)

This device was used to slice the tonsils off when they got infected in the 1860s, much like a traditional guillotine.

However, due to its imprecise nature and the high rate of haemorrhaging, it was thankfully replaced by forceps and scalpels in the early 20th century.


Thank God for modern medicine, right?

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Amanda Francesca Mendonça

After spending pretty much all of my teen years waiting for a Hogwarts letter that never came, I gave up and settled for being a wizard with words instead. A hopeless romantic, when I’m not penning down short stories, I’m busy imagining my own happily ever after.

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