15 Reasons To Be Glad You Didn't Go To The Hospital In The 1800s

It was really easy to get a medical degree.

It was really easy to get a medical degree.

If you find out that your doctor went to a prestigious medical school, that might sound reassuring today. But around 1847, their requirements went something like this:
1. Take two years of lectures. For four months per year.
2. Write a thesis. Or don’t. The requirement could be waived.

Congratulations, you're now ready to practice medicine in the 19th century.

Click through the rest of this gallery to find out what else you're (thankfully) missing, and make sure you don't miss the series premiere of Code Black on Wednesday, September 30 at 10/9c. You can learn more about the anticipated new show by going Inside The ER.

Watch Code Black on CBS.

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Take two arsenic and call me in the morning.

Take two arsenic and call me in the morning.

Promoted to treat fever, headaches, malaria, and more, Fowler’s Solution (named for the doctor who invented it) was used throughout the 19th century. Active ingredient: arsenic. These days most people know that’s poison and can cause cancer.

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This might sting a bit.

This might sting a bit.

Anesthesia wasn’t invented until 1846, so for nearly half of the 18th century (and until it was widely used) that meant surgical procedures were pretty much guaranteed to be excruciating. At least there was whiskey.

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Surgery didn’t take long, but that wasn’t good news.

Surgery didn’t take long, but that wasn’t good news.

Speed kills, but since anesthesia wasn’t around it actually made sense for surgeons to work quickly. But that meant chopping off limbs in a matter of two minutes. One of the best doctors of the 1840s was known to shout “time me” to spectators. He was in such a rush that he accidentally chopped off an assistant's finger while removing a patient’s leg.

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Germ? What’s a germ?

Germ? What’s a germ?

Germ theory wasn’t dreamt up until the final decades of the 19th century. People might have appreciated a clean operating room, but it wasn’t exactly a priority like it is today. Handwashing wasn’t always routine. Illness was more likely to be blamed on those pesky "evil spirits."

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Your ambulance has arrived. Good luck with that.

Your ambulance has arrived. Good luck with that.

Considering that even your car’s modern suspension has trouble with big potholes, imagine going over dirt roads in horse-drawn carriages. Around the time of the Civil War, ambulance drivers were accused of being of the “lowest character” and had a reputation for using the medicinal liquor supplies for their own purposes.

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Bloodletting was still a thing.

Bloodletting was still a thing.

For hundreds of years, doctors thought that cutting patients to remove their blood was a great idea to solve all sorts of ailments. It’s one of the oldest practices in medicine. While you might have read about this in history class, you may not have realized that it wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was “largely edged out.”

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​Magic beans were supposed to cure you, but only made it worse.

​Magic beans were supposed to cure you, but only made it worse.

Throughout the 1800s, some doctors practiced "counter-irritation" to treat ailments. That meant they tried to keep the problem inflamed, often by putting dried peas and beans into open gashes, "to promote proper infection and oozing."

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Two out of three’s not bad, right?

Two out of three’s not bad, right?

In 1890, physician Gottlieb Burkhardt tried to treat six of his mentally ill patients by removing their frontal cortex. One committed suicide and another died shortly after, but "Burkhardt believed that his method had been somewhat successful."

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Your first x-ray would probably be your last.

Your first x-ray would probably be your last.

Used effectively today to diagnose all sorts of problems, the initial x-rays pioneered in the 1890s weren’t as fine-tuned as the ones in modern medicine. Remember that “radiology” is connected to “radiation.” While they produced exceptionally clear images for the time, they also caused hair to fall out and blisters, and many patients later got cancer.

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Secret ingredients could really packed a punch.

Secret ingredients could really packed a punch.

Druggists worldwide could sell you a bottle of Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, convenient for shutting up your crying child. It was specifically advertised to help kids who were teething. The active ingredient? Morphine.

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Shocking cures, not so shocking results.

Shocking cures, not so shocking results.

Electric belts were reportedly a popular impotence cure toward the end of the 19th century. Electricity. Down there. Enough said.

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That itching, burning sensation is just the start.

That itching, burning sensation is just the start.

Syphilis had been around for hundreds of years, but in the 1800s you’d probably still be treated with mercury. Side effects? Just tooth loss, ulcerations, neurological damage, and death.

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You might keep coming back, but not for the reason you’d think.

You might keep coming back, but not for the reason you’d think.

Have a cough, cold, or diarrhea? In the late 19th century they might have given you some diacetylmorphine. Today, we call it heroine, one of the most addictive drugs known to humankind, and cause of death for thousands of Americans each year.

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​A tomato a day seemed to keep the doctor away.

​A tomato a day seemed to keep the doctor away.

Without the sort of pharmaceutical oversight we have today, in the 1830s you might be given Dr. Miles' Compound Extraction of Tomato for “common cold, bilious fever, inflammation of the head or chest, rheumatism, pleurisy, or any other form of acute disease.” Tomatoes may have a lot of health benefits, but if your doctor thinks they’ll cure pleurisy you might want to get a second opinion.

One alternative: see how real modern medicine is practiced under extreme situations on television's new drama Code Black, premiering September 30 at 10/9c on CBS!

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