10 Scary Medical Devices From the Not-too-Distant Past

While it may seem like humanity is on the cusp of medical genius—we’re developing various gene-editing techniques, nanobots are almost a reality, and we can finally perform head transplants—these breakthroughs will seem like barbaric methods in a century.

By the way, we can’t really transplant heads yet, but one doctor thinks he can do it. While we're on the subject, in keeping form, wouldn't it be a body transplant? Anyway, back to the blog at hand...

The best-worst thing about medical breakthroughs is that aging methods start to look pretty scary in the rearview mirror (especially when viewed with a transplanted head).

One can imagine that when the medical practitioners who used the tools below first came upon them, they felt humanity was at the dawn of a more civil time, that these were inventions of medical genius. By contrast to the alternatives at the time, they were.

In fairness, the dividing line is really anesthesiology. Before humans figured out how to put patients to sleep, surgery was all an awful experience.

A skilled practitioner with some of the devices below could make use of them in a pinch so long as the patient was out. That said, let’s hope this is the only place you see these.




The further back one reaches into the world of medical technology, the scarier it gets. Few devices get scarier than this one, the Trephine.

First used in the early 17th century, this hammer-looking device was more drill than hammer.

When patients would come in with seizures or have other needs mandating the doctor make a hole in their head, the Trephine was the device for the job.

After centring the device via a metal pin in the middle of the bit, the doctor would drive the toothed end into the skull. Once he properly seated the bit, the doctor could crank it into the skull by turning the handle end.

This would bore a decent hole in the skull, making room for him to insert other instruments if the patient survived the first part.


Dental Key


About a hundred years later, in the 18th century, medical technology hadn’t advanced much. Devices still looked like hammers.

When it came to teeth, humans struggled to engineer sophisticated solutions until modern times. Cavities were a mystery, and brushing as we know it today wasn’t yet invented. Dental hygiene was a luxury only observed by a few people.

When a tooth hurt, there was only one thing a doctor could do, rip it from a patient’s jaw.

The dental key would fit over the offending tooth, as close to the gums as possible. The doctor would tighten it down, then twist the handle of the key until the tooth unseated from the skull.

Sometimes the extraction would break other teeth or worse, the jaw. Still, until the 20th century, this was high tech dental instrumentation.




In some ways, this device from 1830 (or so) was quite an elegant way of accessing the brain.

Bernhard Heine, the inventor, designed it to facilitate a cleaner method of trepanning. Prior the osteotome, doctors had only blunt tools like saws or hammer and chisel combos.

Those tools worked, but with sometimes disastrous, and unpredictable outcomes. They would splinter bone, damage surrounding tissue, end patient’s lives in a heartbeat.

The Osteotome had a spike, which, once driven into the patient’s skull, anchored the device so the doctor could saw through the bone using the crank.

That turned the small saw-toothed blade, something like a mini-chainsaw. Voilà!


Skull Saw


Around the same time, the osteotome made the medical tech scene, another similar device was popular for more aggressive skull work.

The name captures it best. Unlike the osteotome, there was no anchor for the skull saw. It simply sawed through skull like a chainsaw.

By the 1870s it was no longer the tool of choice, likely replaced by electrical versions with more precise cutting blades.


Stricture Divulsor


If you’re squeamish, skip this one. Seriously.

You’ve been warned, especially male readers.

Last chance.

Here we go…

When male patients would complain about urinary flow challenges, sometimes the problem was a blocked or constricted urethra. A doctor would insert the divulsor into the urethra, navigating the device to the proper place.

A screw in the handle facilitated opening the urethra, sometimes tearing it as the device worked. (I warned you.)

The common belief amongst practitioners was that a little blood was a good thing.


Tonsil Guillotine

[caption id="attachment_media-65" align="aligncenter"]hommedia.png broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk[/caption]

This mid-1800s device is another one of those where the name of the device best captures what it does. There is no mincing of words here.

A doctor would slide these forceps down the throat of a patient who needed the old tonsils removed. Many doctors who’d previously had patients bite their fingers applauded the new technology.

The device would pin down the tonsils with a fork, allowing the doctor to activate the blades of the guillotine, excising the offending tonsils. Albeit scary, it was fast and efficient, but painful.

Later in the 19th century, lucky patients would receive an injection of cocaine before the procedure. Then the only hurdle was not dying from infection.


Hemorrhoid Forceps


The problem with hemorrhoids—no the other problem—is that they can be tough to grab. They’re like a lubricated marble inside a balloon covered in grease.

Until the 20th century, patients had no easy solution for bad ones, either. They could wait out the pain or see the doctor for a solution.

For external hemorrhoids, the forceps worked by cutting them off from the source, forcing the problem to wither and fall off.

Internal hemorrhoids they had to force out first, coaxed with hooks. The doctor would seize the clot, then cauterize or snip it with scissors.




Another popular tool for excising hemorrhoids was the écraseur. Aptly named, it's the French word for crusher.

This device worked by crushing the blood supply of the clot. First, the doctor would lasso hemorrhoids with the looped end.

Fashioned around the end, a wire or chain would tighten around the base of hemorrhoids as the doctor cranked on a screw mounted to the handle.

The first thing that would happen is the écraseur would cut off the blood supply. With time, the doctor could cut off the clot, then cauterize the wound.


Hernia Tool


The next time you “tweak your back,” think of this device from the 1850s.

The idea was that the doctor would locate a herniated disc. Once pinpointed, he would drive the instrument into the affected area to force scar tissue to form.

After about a week, that would seal a hernia, and the device could come out.




While this may look like a fancy iron for hair, it’s actually for the other end of the body. When faced with a bladder stone, doctors used the lithotome to access and remove it. The hard part was getting into the bladder.

The perineal raphe was the best place to start. There, the doctor would make a small incision, big enough to access the urethra.

Accessing the bladder via the anus, the doctor would corner the stone. Then he would insert the Lithotome, which had two hidden blades designed to cut the stone.

It took about five minutes to complete the operation, but worth it? You betcha.

Ingestibles, pills containing cameras and other nanotechnology, may soon eliminate much of our invasive, non-emergency surgeries. In time, with development, they may replace all forms of invasive procedures.

When that day comes, future practitioners will look back on devices like the scalpel and the scissors as tools used by barbarians.

Until such time, Medshop Australia is happy to supply you with the best options on the market. Let’s not forget... how awesome is anesthesia, hm?

Sources: medreps.comlistverse.com

Previous article USQ’s Nursing Society is the Support You Wish You’d Had at Uni