Every year, modern medical science creates devices that advance the fight against human illness, frailty and mortality, increasing both our quality and quantity of life. These are not those devices. Rather, these 10 items represent a range of medical quackery, ill-conceived inventions and just plain insanity from the past 80 years of healthcare. If you ever see any of them in your doctor’s office, seek help elsewhere.
Birthing Centrifuge (1965)
This patent reasoned that one way to make childbirth easier on mothers was to spin them around in a circle while they lie on their backs, allowing the centrifugal force of the rotation to pull the baby out of the birth canal. Safety concerns aside, I have to think that the impracticality of building an adult-sized, self-propelled turntable proved too great to get this product beyond the design stage.
Severed Head Life Support System (1987)
It’s disturbing enough that someone would invent a “cabinet” with a series of tubes to keep fluids circulating through a disembodied animal head (“the discorped head might experience a period of consciousness”), but if it’s truly designed for animals, why does the patent diagram feature a rather human-like subject? I imagine that the creator was inspired by this movie.
Weight Loss Balloon (1979)
This “method and apparatus for reducing obesity” could’ve more accurately been called a “gag reflex tester.” The patient would swallow a balloon with a tube attached. The balloon would settle in the stomach, while the tube would be long enough to extend up through the esophagus and out of the patient’s mouth. A second tube would then be inserted through the nasal cavity and out of the patient’s mouth. (In case you lost count, that’s two tubes coming out of the oral cavity.) The two oral tube ends would then be connected, creating one long tube from the nasal cavity to the stomach. A hypodermic needle would be used to insert either a liquid or gas through the nose and into the stomach, causing the balloon to expand and creating a sensation of being “full”. Alternately, the balloon could be inserted into the stomach via a gastrostomy, with the tube protruding through the abdomen. Um, no thanks.
Penis Exerciser (1995)
This device would essentially replicate weightlifting curls, but for a man’s penis. The exerciser consisted of a box with a weighted rod protruding from it (ahem). The user would place his penis beneath the rod and lift the weight, supposedly “strengthening the muscles which are active in the sexual function of the penis and increasing the circumference of the penis.” (I’m sure that last part [bolded for emphasis] was just an afterthought.) As with all exercise equipment, I recommend wiping it down after use.
Braces Alarm (1988)
This “reminder and enforcer apparatus” was basically a timer placed in orthodontic patients’ mouthpieces that would sound a piercing alarm to remind the patients to wear their headgear. The headgear would be equipped with a magnet that would turn off the alarm when worn. Basically, it would be a choice between crooked teeth and going deaf: “The beeping sound inside the patient’s mouth is intended to be sufficiently irritating and, perhaps, embarassing, to cause the patient to prefer wearing the headgear over hearing a beeper inside his mouth.”
Old Age Rejuvenator Centrifuge (1935)
If centrifugal force can help deliver a baby, just think what it can do for the elderly! This proposed machine was designed under the premise that spinning someone around (with the head angled downward and outward toward the disc’s rim) could decrease the impact of gravity on the body. If this doens’t work, you can always move to the moon.
Anti-Eating Face Mask (1982)
This device takes a direct, no-frills approach to dieting: just cover up the mouth. Made with a series of hooks, wires, straps, locks and a mouth guard, this invention looked like something more appropriate for Hannibal Lecter than for a dieter, and it probably would’ve discouraged not only eating but also showing one’s face in public.
Mouth Exerciser (1923)
What better companion for the penis exerciser than a mouth exerciser? Apparently, the inventor of this device thought that modern methods of softening food placed the public in danger of “decayed teeth, undeveloped jaws, and various other complications due solely to the lack of exercise attendant on proper mastication.” The product consisted of a mouthpiece attached to a string attached to a spring, and the user would simply secure one end of the string and with the mouthpiece clenched between his teeth, pull his head backward in “a series of short jerks or impulses which will be transmitted to the teeth in order to produce a strain thereon, which strain serves to give the several organs of the mouth and head a proper exercise to maintain the necessary circulation therein.” The device could even be used by two people in an oral tug-of-war (see figure 4 below). I smell a lawsuit.
Erectile Dysfunction Vacuum (2005)
A cure for erectile dysfunction sounds like a great idea, but this invention seems pretty impractical. It basically consisted of a large box with holes for the patient’s body and hands, plus one with a vacuum tube attached. The patient would lie down naked with his crotch enclosed in the box. He’d stick his hands through the arm holes “to touch and manipulate his sexual organ to initiate sexual arousal.” Wait, I thought sexual arousal was the problem…? The description continues:
After sexual arousal begins, a switch is operated to turn on a vacuum pump to place a negative pressure within the chamber. When a negative pressure is applied to the chamber, it assists in causing the engorgement of blood into the penis or clitoris of the user to produce an erection. Once an erection has occurred, the user through manual manipulation either by the hands or any other suitable mechanical tool manipulates the sexual organ until ejaculation and/or orgasm occurs.
X-Ray Fingers (1993)
This truly bizarre patent was less an instrument than it was a warped procedure that may or may not have its roots in some sort of witchcraft. Touted as a “test for imaging and diagnosis of internal organs” that was a safe alternative to x-rays and ultrasounds, the process went something like this:
1) The patient formed a horizontal “OK” sign with one of his hands (placing the fingertips of his thumb and one of his remaining fingers together).
2) A sample of tissue from an internal organ was placed on or in the vicinity of the patient’s other hand.
3) Using a probing instrument, the patient (or a third party) would non-invasively probe the patient’s internal organ that matched the type of tissue resting on or near the patient’s hand.
4) While the patient is being probed, the tester would simultaneously try to pull apart his or her fingers (which are still in the “OK” formation) by using a similarly formed “OK” sign (see figures 1-3 below).
Supposedly, the electromagnetic field of the tissue of the sample would react with the electromagnetic field of the internal organ being probed, and the reaction would be reflected in the ability to pull apart (or not pull apart) the patient’s fingers. If the tissue sample in the patient’s hand had cancer, for instance, the procedure supposedly could determine whether or not there’s cancer in the patient’s body based on whether or not the fingers could be separated. If only this procedure could detect insanity.