Not Your Usual Treatments

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2017treatmentscover (1904K) The history of medicine is strewn with bizarre notions about what caused illness and death: the gods, witches, poisoners were all early targets. Later the doctrine of humours ruled, and from then onwards, the practice of medicine made perfect sense, if you accepted the crazy model that the medical people were working from.

That was often a big ask, but this book helps you to understand where orthodox medical practitioners were coming from when they applied leeches and dosed people with millipedes, spiders, dog droppings and worse, far worse.

I have waded through most of the "Domestic Medicine" books that were published from the 1600s on, and delved into a few earlier grimoires as well. Nowhere else will you learn useful ways of repelling bores by discussing the gory details of leech culture and use, but there are far odder treatments awaiting you. Tapeworm traps, lowered down the gullet, artificial limbs and the efficient uses of mummies and hanged men's thigh bones are there as well as boiled puppies and electric shock.

A half-plucked duck placed on the belly, a hot onion on the crotch, a tobacco pipe up the rectum after drowning, a fried egg on the bite of a mad dog, monkey gland injections, drinking radium-laced water until your jaw crumbles, being x-rayed to restore your youth were all popular. Putting your face in a hole in the ground; taking sugar can juice or sniffing rotten meat were all recommended for TB, but one expert thought leprosy was caused by eating rotten fish.

Then there were the quacks and patent medicine sellers, a bunch of complete rogues (several of them offered herbal remedies to prevent bubonic plague!). One doctor, while discussing hysteria: "…the case of a whole school of young ladies in Holland, who were all cured by being told, that the first who was seized [with hysteric fits] should be burnt to death." After that, being stood up to the genitals in cold water for a nose bleed seems benign!

This book began life as a history of Australian quackery, but quacks and patent medicine dealers operate across national boundaries, so the case studies, while showing an Australian bias, also look at events and fads in Europe, Britain, and north America. It is entirely based on the author's curious (in several senses) research over many years.

Then there are the recipes, including one for artificial asses' milk, and Robert Boyle's recipe for convulsions in children:

"Take Earth-Worms, wash them well in White-wine to cleanse them, but so as they may not die in the Wine. Then upon hollow Tiles, or between them, dry the Worms with a moderate heat, and no further than that they may be conveniently reduc'd to Powder; to one Ounce of which add a pretty number of Grains of Ambergrise, both to perfume the Powder (whose scent of itself is rank) and to make the Medicine more efficacious."
ISBN TBA, written by Peter Macinnis, now published as a Kindle e-book.


Chapter descriptions | Who is it for? | The Blog (extras) | This book on Facebook

Chapter descriptions

1 New paradigms for old

How models arise, and how they change: from disease being caused by the gods, witches and poisoners and on to germs, diet and other more modern ideas.

2 Legitimacy and medicine

What makes some cures legitimate and others illegitimate? We start with 20 case studies, some of them a puzzle to rate. Then how medicine grows, and the phenomenon of human fads and fashion. leeches (62K)

3 Improbable ideas

Strange inventions to help patients, how surgery emerged, and a vignette: the 19th century leech trade.

4 Strange cures

Ways to deal with drowning, the bites of mad dogs (like wearing a fried egg on the bite), injecting monkey glands, a quack medicine, Radam's microbe killer. Crazy cures for TB, then tapeworm traps that you swallow.

5 Physics meets physick

How quacks latched onto bits of modern science, using bottled electricity, magnets, x-rays and radium — even electric light to "cure".

6 Dangerous cures

Assorted plant and mineral poisons, dunking in water, and Frederick Skey, a surgeon who liked his patients sloshed:

"… I am of opinion that for the purposes of health three or four glasses of wine is the maximum quantity that, taken at any one time, can be serviceable. All beyond this, answers the purpose of luxury and nothing more, and is more or less injurious."

7 Cures that squirm

Millipedes, wormd, snails, arachnids, dung and urine as medications, Henry Banyer's instructions for making snail water on a large scale:

Take Garden-Snails cleansed and bruised 6 Gallons, Earth-worms washed and bruised 3 Gallons, of common Wormwood, Ground-Ivy, and Carduus, each one Pound and half, Penniroyal, Juniper Berries, Fennel-seeds, Aniseeds, each half a Pound, Cloves and Cubebs bruised, each 3 Ounces, Spirit of Wine, and Spring-water, of each 8 Gallons; digest them together for the Space of 24 Hours, and then draw it off in a common Alembick. This is admirably well contrived both for Cheapness and Efficacy; and for Persons whose Circumstances and Manner of living have not habituated them to any Delicacies, it is as good a Snail-Water as can be made; and with the two former, are the chief that are used in the Hospitals. And as they are mostly given in Consumptions contracted from vicious Practices, and Venereal Contagions, this is the constant Drink of those who are under the like Weaknesses and Decays from a malum stamen, and require principally Nourishment from such Substances as will, with the least Trouble possible, be assimulated for that Purpose.

8 Cures with backbone

Using bits (or all) of fish, reptiles, birds, other mammals, and bits of dead humans.

9 Getting the science right

The emergence of a germ theory and anesthesia.

10 Quacks and pain

The many pain cures among the patent medicines, and the tale of Bishop Berkeley's tar water.

11 Blood cleaners

A common paradigm for quacks, likening the veins, arteries and intestines to clogged sewers.

12 Countering quacks

The modus operandi of the quack, the fad diet, exemplified by the Vitamin Ch © diet.

…and the secret is that you should only eat foods and drinks that begin with ch. These contain a new vitamin that doctors will tell you does not exist, because they don't want you to know about it. People who have adopted the Vitamin Ch © plan no longer go to see the doctor. Here is a list of the approved foods, though you need to buy a new version of our program book every six months, or log onto our secure website ($24.95 a month, plus any relevant taxes) to stay in touch with new research developments, such as the advisability of including "Chinese" foods like chow mein and chop suey.

13 Laughing at Einstein

Curious and surprising aspects of modern medicine

Who I want to reach

This is written for people who care about science, and are amused by bizarre ideas.

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Freebie extras!

I don't waste the out-takes, though.

Look at my writing blog, Old Writer on the Block, and you can find the leftovers.

Here is an example of a portion of the book that actually began there: Adventures in the leech trade formed the basis of a part of chapter 3. Poke around!

I hope you will have a great deal more fun from this book. I certainly had fun writing it.

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It was created on March 27, 2017 and last updated April 20, 2017.

If you email me at macinnis at, you will reach a spam trap, but be read, eventually, probably maybe. If you put my first name in front of that address (so it reads petermacinnis), you will reach me much faster and more surely. This low-tech solution is to make email harvesting difficult. I am generally willing to talk to interesting humans. Spammers miss out twice on fitting that specification.

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