“The art of medicine,” wrote Voltaire, “consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” Some of the medical treatments of Voltaire’s day and since haven’t been too amusing however. George Washington was stricken with an infection which in a later day would have been treated with the antibiotics unavailable to his physicians. Armed only with the medical knowledge and practices of the time, they repeatedly bled their patient, further weakening him and no doubt hastening his death. Bleeding was long an accepted medical practice, for a wide variety of complaints, and doctors found it useful for a treatment. Sometimes the patient survived, though it is highly unlikely the ministrations of the physicians contributed to the cure.
There are many medical procedures and practices formerly used to treat patients that added to the discomfort and indignities of being ill, all highly regarded in their day. Trepanning, which is defined below, was used since ancient times to release evil spirits and humors from deranged minds. Mercury, which is a highly toxic heavy metal, was the prescribed treatment for syphilis. The practice of lobotomy was used in cases of mental illnesses; John F. Kennedy’s sister Rosemary was lobotomized in an attempt to control her mood swings at the age of 23, on the advice of her doctors.