Victorian England brings sweet images to mind; sprawling estates with manicured gardens, evenings whiled away over decadent meals, conversations and live music, and proper ladies strolling through parks with holding umbrellas.
But there is another side to Victorian England — a very dark side — and it’s horrifying, even to modern day eyes and ears. Moments from a time when doctors boiled water, but not to make you a cup of tea. When babies were given narcotics and you could buy anesthesia at the local drugstore. When a particular diagnosis could land you an orgasm, and medical treatments claimed your life while attempting to save you. These are ten frightening medical practices of the 1800’s, and they are sure to leave you in shock!
Surgery Went Like This
Before anesthesia was discovered, patients were awake during surgery, fully aware of the doctor’s every move! A dose of brandy didn’t mask the pains of a tooth extraction, much less having a leg amputated, or a breast removed and chest bones scraped. Until mid-century (when anesthesia came on the scene) doctors prided themselves on the speed with which they could perform the surgery since the procedure was unbearable for both the patient and the doctor.
Consumption (aka Tuberculosis) was considered a disease that affected the sinful ones, those guilty of seeking pleasure through wearing improper clothing, masturbating, using alcohol, and smoking. Treatments varied and one of the less expensive (and more common ones) was for a mixture of gases to be inserted in the rectum.
Laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol (and highly addictive narcotic drug), was super cheap and could easily be purchased from a local drugstore! Laudanum was often used to ease pain on the deathbed and for a wide range of ailments and diseases, such as cholera, menstrual cramps, common colds, yellow fever and dysentery.
This bacterial disease claimed thousands of lives throughout the 1800’s. Cholera caused an otherwise healthy person to fall ill with extreme stomach cramping, followed by severe diarrhea (resembling rice water) and vomiting. The patient, still alert until the end, would become so dehydrated that their blood would become as thick as glue, and the face and limbs, sunken and blue. Doctors would treat cholera patients by bleeding them, giving turpentine enemas and brandy, and pouring boiling water on the patient’s stomach!
It would be known today as typical PMS symptoms; moodiness, tension in the abdomen, and melancholy. In the second half of the 1800’s, doctors “treated” patients with hysteria by bringing the woman to orgasm! They were called paroxysms (not orgasms), because during the Victorian Era it was a universal belief that women could not orgasm since they weren’t capable of experiencing sexual satisfaction. Extreme cases of hysteria called for hysterectomy!