Top 5 Creepiest Images in Medical History

Medical history is filed with stories of inspiration and wonder, but it also has a dark side. The medical field has come along way over the last hundred years or so, and the understanding of what causes various abnormalities has advanced. At the time such conditions were a spectacle, the documentation of which are now among the creepiest images in medical history. Other images come from past medical practices that are just downright weird.

5 Trepanation Engraving

Wikimedia Commons

This engraving by Peter Treveris appeared in a surgery handbook published in 1525 and portrays the procedure known as trepanation. This surgery involves boring into the patient’s skull with a drill and exposing the membrane that surrounds the brain. The practice dates back thousands of years, and continued in Europe through the Renaissance as a treatment for seizures and skull fractures. Just looking at the engraving will make you cringe as you think what it would be like to have a doctor drill into your brain while you are still awake.

4 Syste`me de Broussais

U.S. National Library of Medicine

This image shows the archaic practice of blood letting, which was used as a treatment for a number of illnesses since early civilization. Many ancient physicians believed that illnesses were caused by an excess of blood in the body that could be cured by letting some out. This practice continued as far as the later half of the 19th century until it was fully discredited. The undated image shows the patient receiving treatment from a nun, and there are cuts all over his body and blood all over the floor. It is a disturbing reminder of the countless patients who suffered pointless medical procedures throughout history. The title refers to a prominent French doctor who was a strong advocate for blood letting during the early 1800s.

3 Julia Pastrana

U.S. National Library of Medicine

This photograph from the “Image from the History of Medicine” collection will give you the willies. What looks like the body of a werewolf is actually Julia Pastrana, a woman who died in Moscow during childbirth in 1860. Pastrana had a condition called hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth on parts of the body. Born in Mexico, Pastrana worked for a traveling sideshow where she was billed as “Bear Woman.” Her child, who died shortly after birth, was born with the same condition. Both of their bodies were embalmed and exhibited as medical oddities until the 1970s. In 1976, the bodies were stolen from a Norwegian exhibitor and later found by police in a trash bin. While the child’s body was too damaged to repair, Pastrana’s was eventually put into a storage basement with other anatomical specimens at the University of Oslo. After 10 years of effort, a New York artist got the university to release her remains so Pastrana could have a dignified burial in her native Mexico, which took place in 2013.

2 Portrait of Joseph Merrick

Wikimedia Commons

Known as the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick was born in 1862. His severe deformities left him few options but to find work as an oddity in a London side show. Merrick’s face and head are deformed and enlarged in the photograph, as well as his right hand. For decades after his death, researchers sought to diagnose Merrick’s condition. In the early 2000s, a group of medical researchers proposed that Merrick suffered from Proteus syndrome, caused by a fetal gene mutation. The mutated gene divided and spread to different parts of his body, causing deformities to grow and develop as he got older.

1 “A Student’s Dream” by R.R. Robinson (1906)

Wikimedia Commons

This photograph is one of the best examples of dissection room photography, a common practice at medical schools during the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. In the photo, a medical student pretends to sleep on an autopsy table, while he is surrounded by a skull, a skeleton and a couple of half-dissected cadavers. While it seems incredibly strange for medicals students to enjoy posing with dead bodies for fun, it might have provided them with a way to bond with each other, and was a way of facing their own mortality. Whatever the reason, the creep factor is through the roof.

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