The mastectomy worked fine until the nipple came off

I am not anti-Western medicine. Medical intervention has saved my life twice, and that’s not even counting the immunizations that have likely kept me from dying from a vaccine-preventable illness. I have no patience for homeopathy, vaccine denial, and the many other common beliefs of people who are critics of Western medicine. I’m a believer in evidence; when possible, evidence based on large, objective, double-blinded studies. 

Trans activists like to say they have science on their side. They cite the American Psychological Association (APA) and other medical/psychological bodies as if those organizations have an infallible track record. They don’t. Retractions and about-faces are common. Treatments come in and out of favor, and a lot of crow gets eaten by MDs and researchers.

What little scientific evidence there is to support surgery and hormones as the preferred treatment for gender dysphoria is sparse and inconclusive (e.g., the foundational claim that there is such a thing as an innate female or male brain has no scientific basis). Despite the huge increase in medical “transition,” subjects for longitudinal studies aren’t being recruited. An extreme medical intervention is currently in vogue for a subjective feeling some people have: the feeling that their actual, objectively verifiable bodies are somehow “wrong,” and less valid—less real—than the subjective, psychological experience of being the opposite sex.

The below is just a smattering of the medical treatments that were popular and widely used at some time in recent history.  Many of these “treatments” were used well into the twentieth century. Some popular treatments were more damaging than others. Tonsillectomy is an example of a surgery that, while not necessary, has likely not caused serious or widespread damage to people who had them. But others—like lobotomy, insulin shock therapy, radioactive water, and mercury treatments—caused untold destruction to people’s bodies and brains.

What they all have in common is that they were seen as an answer, a panacea, the correct treatment“best practice,” and they were performed needlessly on hundreds of thousands of people. They all made money for the professionals who administered them. And you can bet that for some of these treatments–notably, shock therapy and lobotomy–the patients’ families were likely told that if they didn’t go ahead with it, the patient would commit suicide.

Time will tell whether the current societal and medical infatuation with hormones and plastic surgery will turn out to be just another medical fad to be discarded in the dust bin of history.

Update: A commenter rightly pointed out that this list is woefully inadequate, mentioning the Thalidomide debacle as one example. There is a long list of dangerous or worthless drugs that were once seen as magic bullets. Deserving of another post, for sure. Commenters, feel free to add your favorites.

[an Internet search will turn up many corroborating links for the information below]

“The radium worked fine until his jaw came off”

“Radium pendants were used for rheumatism, uranium blankets for arthritis, anti-aging radioactive cosmetics, radioactive water, and more…Radioactive water became particularly popular when radiation was found in well-known hot springs that people thought had healing properties. Thinking radiation was natural in water, radioactive drinks were marketed to the public. Eben Byers, a well known industrialist, claimed to drink three bottles a day. His death inspired the 1932 Wall Street Journal headline ”The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off“.

Mercury

Mercury was used to treat syphilis for four centuries

“Although elemental mercury was clearly toxic, this did not stop its use in pharmacy for hundreds of years. In the 1500’s mercury was used in the treatment (albeit ineffective) of syphilis. 

Initially mercury was used as an ointment, but the patients often got worse. Then there was the tub, which was a mercury vapor bath, and even calomel was used, but with little effect. These treatments were used for over four centuries, but none provided a cure, despite claims at the time.” 

http://cnx.org/contents/fb2244d4-3210-4b3e-baa1-5957b557ed95@5/The_Myth,_Reality,_and_History

Lobotomy

“The lobotomy was first performed on humans in the 1890’s. The procedure was thought to be a cure for mental illness. During its popularity between the 1940’s and 50’s it was performed on about 40,000 people in the US.

Neurologist Walter Freeman developed a quick method called a transorbital lobotomy or “ice-pick” lobotomy. A patient would be made unconscious by electroshock, then an instrument which resembled an ice-pick was inserted above the eyeball and through the orbit. When the brain was reached the pick would be moved back and forth to destroy neural pathways. This process was repeated on the other side.”

http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2007/07/24/inventing-the-lobotomy/

Insulin shock therapy 

“The disturbingly named insulin coma therapy, or insulin shock therapy, was a type of psychiatric treatment widely used in hospitals in the 1930s through the 1950s. It involved repeatedly administering large doses of insulin to patients, with the aim of causing daily comas over a course of several weeks.

Predominantly used to treat schizophrenia, the treatment was introduced to the medical community in 1933 by the Austrian-born psychiatrist Manfred Sakel. During a standard length of treatment, injections of insulin were given six days a week for around two months, although courses lasting up to two years have been recorded.

The decline of the treatment was sharp. It was heavily criticized as early as 1953 when the British psychiatrist Harold Bourne wrote of “the insulin myth,” claiming that the treatment had no effect on schizophrenia at all. By the end of the 1950s, the therapy had fallen out of favor, mostly because of the length of time it took and the nursing supervision it required. However, it has been recorded as continuing until as late as the 1970s in China and the former Soviet Union.


“Why did patients and families allow these dangerous treatments to be administered? Indeed, why did families plead for family members to be enrolled in the treatment, even impoverishing themselves to assure ICT at a prestigious hospital? At the time, ICT and ECT were the only treatments that offered the possibility of successful resolution of a dreaded disorder, especially when time alone did not bring about a spontaneous remission.”

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/filmmore/ps_ict.html

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7 thoughts on “The mastectomy worked fine until the nipple came off

  1. I find it interesting that you focus only on medical procedures. The list of medications that were widely prescribed and deemed safe (a la today’s hormones) only to be yanked off the market later amid death and horror would be even longer. The hormones some of these young folks get into come from who knows where and contains God Only Knows. Science is of little help in the face of something like Thalidomide.

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    • Absolutely right, Oceans. That’s why I called it a “smattering.” When I started working on the post, I became overwhelmed by how many other things I could include. It’s a very long list. My point, of course, is how many medical certainties there are that end up being refuted. Feel free to add your own list. I may do a follow-up post. And thank you.

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  2. Here is a link to a great article in the same vein and a short excerpt:
    http://io9.com/5896669/when-opium-was-for-newborns-and-bayer-sold-heroin

    Heroin, believe it or not, was hailed as a wonder substance for its ability to wean addicts off their drug of choice. It was developed by Bayer, when Bayer was primarily called Aktiengesellschaft Farbenfabriken, as a way of treating pain without exposing people to that terribly addictive drug known as morphine. The painkiller was a scourge of the land, turning wounded soldiers into addicts. Bayer & Co. was trying to synthesize, from morphine, the less addictive codeine, and they stumbled on heroin.

    Heroin was used for many things, such as cough drops and as a painkiller for menstrual cramps and migraines. And it was used to “cure” addiction to morphine. This non-addictive painkiller was meant to quell the pain of withdrawal from morphine and help morphine addicts kick the habit. Heroin, outside the body, was unquestionably different than morphine. Unfortunately, when heroin crosses the blood-brain barrier, the body metabolizes it to morphine. In fact, heroin gets into the brain quicker, thanks to its particular solubility, than morphine itself. The company had just worked out a way for someone to get a high faster.

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  3. Oh, and another example that might relate to the current acceptance of mutilation to treat an emotional condition is Dr. Henry Cotton, a psychiatrist who in his time was widely sought after for his treatment for psychiatric conditions. What was his treatment?

    “He postulated that mental illness was caused by “focal infection,” and that it could be cured by cutting away the source of the infection, something he called surgical bacteriology.” He started with removing teeth and tonsils, and if that did not work moved onto removing intestines and other body organs. His mortality rates were as high as 50% but this treatment was esteemed and carried out from the early 1900s to the late 1950’s.

    How could such a crazy treatment that had been investigated in the 30’s continue for so long?

    Read about it in the links below. Unfortunately it can take a long time for reason and reality to catch up with practice.

    See links for more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cotton_%28doctor%29
    http://io9.com/how-an-early-psychiatric-treatment-lead-to-widespread-m-727227536

    I think this practice w

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  4. Oh, and another example that might relate to the current acceptance of mutilation to treat an emotional condition is Dr. Henry Cotton, a psychiatrist who in his time was widely sought after for his treatment for psychiatric conditions. What was his treatment?

    “He postulated that mental illness was caused by “focal infection,” and that it could be cured by cutting away the source of the infection, something he called surgical bacteriology.” He started with removing teeth and tonsils, and if that did not work moved onto removing intestines and other body organs. His mortality rates were as high as 50% but this treatment was esteemed and carried out from the early 1900s to the late 1950’s.

    How could such a crazy treatment that had been investigated in the 30’s continue for so long?

    Read about it in the links below. Unfortunately it can take a long time for reason and reality to catch up with practice.

    See links for more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cotton_%28doctor%29
    http://io9.com/how-an-early-psychiatric-treatment-lead-to-widespread-m-727227536

    Like

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