When it comes to having a safe doctor, we have it pretty good. Every once in a while someone leaves a sponge where it shouldn’t be. And very rarely we will find a Nick Rivieria from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College who takes it upon himself to inject fix-a-flat into someone’s booty for the low price of ninety-nine-ninety-five. But for the most part, we can rest easy that our doctors took some classes, passed some tests and someone checked along the way to make sure they weren’t a vampire. (Noteable exception: the Cullen paterfamilias.)
Things haven’t always been so good. Even up until the 1920s, “Dr” John Brinkley was stitching goat testicles inside people’s nether bits to restore their virility and winning smiles. He did it all on the good merits of a diploma he bought fair and square at a flea market. (Admittedly not at a flea market and decidedly neither fair nor square.) In Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster you can learn all about the illustrious career of patent medicine con artist turned surgeon, radio mogul and politician. Dr Brinkley made a fortune killing off healthy people left and right trying to make them better. But on good days he only pedaled staff infections.
O. Henry made good reads of these bunco, tonic-pushers coming to their just desserts all over the country in The Gentle Grafter. But the inspiration was right out of real life. And some of those bottles weren’t just colored water or straight up Victorian dope. Some of them contained true-to-life radioactive materials. Radithor, created by quack and pretender William Bailey was essentially radium dissolved in water. It was so beloved by his most loyal consumer, Eben Byers, that the man kept taking it even after the radium he’d ingested for years caused his jaw to fall off.
And it wasn’t just prescriptions either, but proscriptions too. Doctor Linda Hazzard, the most ironically named quack in the Pacific Northwest, had the ultimate cure-all; death. Starvation Heights tells the sordid story of this true believer in “the fasting cure” for every single ailment that could possibly afflict a body. She whittled the robust down to 50lb bags of sticks with fasts lasting months. You were sure to receive her best and longest fast if you had any money she could appropriate if you happened to die.
So maybe our doctors nowadays have halitosis and only 10 minutes to give us. And our pharmaceutical system is definitely pretty jacked. But at least they openly disclose how those medicines will kill us on the commercial.
Warning: Reading this blog may cause dizziness, compulsive macaroni eating, alternating diarrhea and constipation, armpit whistling, reverse burping, chronic Netflix binging, fear of flavored potato chips, awkward situations with your mailman, invasion by space monkey and aversion to crocheted doilies.