Without the benefit of hindsight, all medical innovations look like crazy people doing crazily stupid things. The first guy who injected himself with polio was by any definition a madman, but he was a madman who wound up saving millions of people, so it’s all good. But this nobly psychotic approach to healthcare has resulted in a whole slew of really weird procedures that are equal parts learned medicine and witch doctor chicanery. And some of them worked like a charm. For example …
Drowning Victims Can Be Saved by Blowing Smoke Up Their Asses
In a medical context, blowing smoke up someone’s ass is generally done by insurance companies. However, in the 18th century, it was a legitimate — and apparently effective — method of resuscitating drowning victims.
The smoke enema was the practice of reviving near-drowned people by pumping tobacco smoke into their rectums so they would start breathing again. In one of the earliest documented uses, after a man’s wife had almost drowned, a bystander recommended the procedure, prompting the man to shove a standard issue lit tobacco pipe up his wife’s ass, exhale a bunch of hot embers into her, and bring her back to the land of the living with a new lease on life and a whole lot of internal blisters.
The method was surprisingly effective, though it was unclear to doctors of the time exactly how it worked. It was theorized that the nicotine in tobacco smoke stimulated cardiovascular activity, or that it warmed the victim, or that it dried the water in their lungs, but nobody’s been able to pinpoint it, and those jerks on the ethics board won’t green-light our study. So the most reasonable explanation was the element of surprise. Because even when unconscious, the shock of unwittingly getting bellows and a puff of nicotine up the rear is enough for most people’s hearts and adrenal glands to start a-pumping.