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Beautiful But Deadly: The Creepiest Devices From Medicine's Grisly, Leech-Filled Past

Dr. M. Donald Blaufox is the chairman emeritus of the department of nuclear medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He is also a collector of medical devices and artifacts from the past, especially from the era before germ theory. Some of the items look like props for Frenkenstein's leboratory, others make you wonder what on earth they were thinking.

For Blaufox, who runs the virtual Museum of Historical Medical Artifacts and also has a supplementary collection of more than 500 rare books, the primary motivation for collecting was to illustrate the history of medicine, with examples from a range of disciplines. In ophthalmology, he has a tray of glass eyes, circa 1880; in pharmacy, a set of 28 corked vials of various powdered remedies from 1900; and in quackery, a neat little device called a Baunscheidt Lebenswecker from 1870. The Lebenswecker (“life awakener”), developed by Carl Baunscheidt, basically pierced one’s skin with multiple needles, causing a rash of blisters, as a means of counter-irritation, a homeopathic technique (or a bogus one, depending upon whom you ask) predicated on the idea that you can reduce pain in one area of the body by inducing inflammation in another.

That makes sense in a way. As the old joke says, hit your right hand with a hammer and you'll forget about the small cut on your left hand. Around 100 pieces from Dr. Blaufox's collection are on display now at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, in an exhibition called “The Dawn of Modern Medicine,” but if you can't make it to Connecticut, you can see and read about some of these strange items at Collectors Weekly.


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Reminds me of that line from "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home": "Don't leave him in the hands of 20th century medicine!" What modern devices and treatments will be disdained by doctors in future centuries?
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