If history has taught us anything, it’s that life during the 19th century was plain awful. The medical field wasn’t as advanced as it is today and people died from diseases as simple as diarrhea. Many men, women and children worked hard but still struggled to stay afloat. The field of medicine was filled with anomalies and doctors struggled to help their patients. Thanks to prolific photographers, we can witness some of the images from history of individuals who had to go through disturbing anomalies in their life. While some were born with it, others had no choice but to endure their fate. Here are 10 disturbing medical images from history that you might have missed.
1. Triple Amputee
Today, the railroad systems are automated. Gates close, lights blink and sirens go off by themselves to alert motorists as well as pedestrians of an oncoming train. Back in the 19th century, everything was manually controlled and pedestrians, who were unaware of the oncoming trains, were often hit by them. In 1865, J. McKnight, a 32-year-old man was crushed by a railroad car that was carrying building materials.
To everyone’s amazement, McKnight survived but with a huge price. His right arm and both legs were damaged and James Buckner Luckie, an American physician, performed his second successful triple amputation on McKnight.
According to rarediseases.org, Elephantiasis is a condition characterized by gross enlargement of an area of the body. The condition mainly affects limbs in both men and women but can also affect genitals. An obstruction of the lymphatic system causes the condition in humans and results in the accumulation of a fluid called lymph. As the fluid builds up, the portion of the body affected begins to enlarge due to swelling. The condition is most common in tropical regions such as Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and South America.
The man in the picture suffered from Elephantiasis and due to constant suffering, he asked the doctor to have his limbs amputated. Instead of amputation, the doctor suggested an experimental surgery on him that would allow him to keep his legs. The man agreed and the surgery was a success. Doctors were able to remove huge portions of the fluid inside his limbs but sadly the man passed away five months after the surgery.
3. Blanche Dumas
The story of Blanche Dumas is truly stranger than fiction. Blanche Dumas was born on the island of Martinique in 1860 to a French father and a mother of African origin. She was said to have had a very broad pelvis, two imperfectly developed legs and a third leg attached to her coccygeus. In addition to normal well developed breasts, she also had two smaller rudimentary breasts close together above her pubic area.
Just when you thought that you had seen everything, Blanche also had two vaginas with two well-developed vulvas, and allegedly, both had equally developed sensitivity. She also had a strong appetite for men and was known to please men using both her genitals.
4. Widow Sunday
Madame Dimanche, also known as Widow Sunday, was a French woman living in Paris during the early 19th century. At the age of 76, she grew a 24.9 cm (9.8″) horn from her forehead. The horn grew for an astounding six years before it was successfully removed by a French surgeon. A wax model of her head is on display at the Mütter Museum in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
5. Long Chinese Fingernails
In the Chinese culture, growing fingernails long is a sign of power and wealth. Only the highest members among the society are allowed to grow their nails to an unimaginable length. Having long fingernails shows others that the man is born from a high-class family and that he does not do hard work.
It is taken as an indicator that you don’t work with your hands, that you are above the social station of a common laborer, that you live the sort of life that allows the luxury to possess such a pampered set of paws. Today, the tradition is still followed by some, and only men are allowed to grow their nails to such an extent. In the past, Chinese women followed a tradition called foot binding which is non-existent today.
6. Spine Straightening
This isn’t a scene from 50 Shades Of Grey, it’s actually how they used to treat scoliosis. Most treatments for spinal deformities in the past would probably look like a torture chamber today. Patients were suspended by hand, hip, and head to medieval-looking, wooden-framed contraptions designed to pull and twist their bodies. Although it sounds horrible, those suffering from scoliosis found it to be helpful.
Lewis Sayre, one of the founding fathers of orthopedic surgery, came up with the idea of treating scoliosis with suspension. Sayre hung his patients from their arms until they were dangling almost entirely off the ground, at which point their scoliotic deformities could be straightened out and a plaster of Paris cast applied to hold it all in place. While many questioned his methods, the idea helped to develop modern methods of body casting and bracing.
7. John Aasen – A Real-Life Giant
Johan Aasen, or John Aasen as he was commonly known, lived from 1890 to 1938. He was reportedly the tallest man in the World with some news reports stating him to be as tall as 8 feet – 9 inches. It is still debated as to how tall he was, since most reports exaggerated his height by including his high-heel boots and hat in the measurement. John Aasen became a well-known celebrity in the 1920’s and 30’s as a showman. After travelling with sideshows around the world, he earned the nickname, “The Norwegian Giant”. Aasen also starred in several Hollywood movies and became known as the “Harold Lloyd Giant”.
Ectrodactyly or split hand feet malformation is a birth defect where the person is born with cleft hands and/or feet. The genetic disorder is also known as “lobster claw hand”, and is characterized by the complete or partial absence of fingers or toes. In some cases, the person is born with webbing between fingers or toes (syndactyly). According to rarediseases.org, the malformation affects males and females equally, with a frequency which is estimated at one out of 18,000 newborns.
9. This Man Died of Syphilis
The Mütter Museum, located at 19 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a vast collection of unfortunate folks stricken with a wide array of physical maladies. The educational institution displays the history of the diagnosis of disease, but most of the visitors go for the nightmarish displays such as the one above. This picture shows the head of a man who died from an extreme case of syphilis.
While cyclopia might sound like something out of Greek mythology, the reality is quite heartbreaking. Cyclopia is a condition where a child is born with both eyes merged into one. The rare and lethal complex human malformation results from incomplete cleavage of prosencephalon into right and left hemispheres, occurring between the 18th and the 28th day of gestation. According to NCBI, approximately 1.05 in 100,000 births are identified as infants with cyclopia (including stillbirths). Unfortunately, the condition is lethal to babies, but doctors today can find the rare condition in the fetus during pregnancy.