The Miracle of Mercury

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October 8, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Modern medicine is probably my favorite thing about living in the early 21st century.  Not only do we have a lot of things going right for us: Penicillin, vaccinations, transplants, and according to some within the scientific community there might be an HIV vaccine as soon as 2019.  But what’s even more impressive than what we’ve done right, is what we’ve stopped doing.  To be quite honest, up until 1951 medicine and overall healthcare was pretty shitty.  All the practices and remedies that seemed to work have now been found to be more detrimental than the actual ailment it was intended to cure.  When it comes to medical history, we’ve pretty much done everything wrong for probably about 99.94% of our entire existence.

Somewhere along the way, someone (thank God) realized that whoever wrote the book on medicine was either a sadist, or a schizophrenic five year old.  Not only did people not have any of the right conceptions about medicine, they thought all the wrong things, things which don’t even sound like good ideas, were actually right.  For example:

 

Patient: Doctor I get frequent headaches. How do I fix this?

Doctor: I’ll just drill holes in your head to let more oxygen into your brain.

 

Drilling holes into someone’s head was considered a medical achievement before 1909, which is odd because most people can’t survive with multiple holes drilled directly into their brain.  Any mood disorders or emotional problems weren’t dealt with therapy or easily obtainable prescription pills, but by removing the bothersome organs responsible for the mental discomfort.  This resulted in lobotomies, which would cure the mood disorder, along with any other traces of personality.  If you were a woman deemed hysterical, they would blame it on “uncontrollable” female histrionics and remove your uterus.  Because the cure for depression is forced sterility.  Let me paraphrase-Women were spayed for having feelings.

 

Husband: Doctor, my wife is hysterical.  What can you do?

Doctor: Well, I could remove half of her brain with a shovel and an ice pick, or a I could take out her uterus using an ice cream scooper and some pliers.  It’s your call.

Wife: Uh…I don’t think any of that is necessary.

Husband: See what I mean Doc?

 

Speaking of wantonly removing critical parts of the body, my personal favorite medical misstep is the practice of leeching…which is exactly what it sounds like.  Leeching was the most popular form of bloodletting, a fairly common practice used to treat diseases, male impotence, and even stab wounds.  Yes, doctors, and even licensed barbers would bleed people already suffering from copious amounts of blood loss.

Leeches are parasites that live off of blood, if you’ve ever seen Stand by Me, you know what a leech is.  These deadly parasites were used as medical instruments to drain a sufferer (victim) of “excess” blood.  Whenever the patient would be killed from the leeches, which was almost all of the time, the blame wasn’t placed on the bloodsuckers themselves, or the physicians who thought that smothering the sick and lame with scores of leeches was a good idea.  No, the blame was laid at the feet of the now dead victim.  They were to blame for having blood so tainted that even the miracle leeches couldn’t help.  That’s like a hospital turning down someone with cancer because…well, they have cancer; it just defeats the purpose of medicine.  When medical practices and torture tactics of the Viet Cong intersect, there’s probably something wrong there.

Beyond all the cockamamie and oddly amusing fucked up medical practices and longstanding beliefs about what is and is not hazardous to human health, there is one thing, one totally stupid and incredibly timeless remedy, that for some reason was only discovered to be dangerous (retardedly dangerous at that) roughly 118 years ago.  That thing that was once thought to be the alpha and the omega of cures, elixirs, and antigens is none other than mercury.  Mercury, you know the cool looking, densely vicious liquid metal that can kill you if you stare at it for too long.  It’s what Robert Patrick and Alex Mac are made out of, and it’s one of the most naturally occurring toxins to not only humans, but EVERY carbon based life form in the universe.  And as naturally as we’d take an Aspirin for anything, from 2000 B.C. to 1912 people took mercury for pretty much any ailment.

How big was mercury for the majority of human history you ask?  The ancient Greeks, Chinese, Romans, and Egyptians all discovered it and all of these “advanced civilizations” saw it as a literal miracle drug.  They all independently decided that this oozing silver metal can only help, that it can, in no way, harm, disfigure or kill you.

In ancient Rome, mercury was used as makeup.  Instead of putting on eye shadow or blush, you’d use mercury instead.  Even after people’s faces were being disfigured and they eye lids were sliding off their faces, still no one of questioned the medicinal properties of liquid metal.  In ancient Greece mercury was used much more often in day to day life.  Let’s say you’re seven years old, living in ancient Greece, and you scrape your knee going over phalanx practice, or falling over your toga.  Instead of using hydrogen peroxide (discovered in 1818…so never mind), or even iodine for fucks sake, your mom would lather you up in mercury.  Essentially, you’re taking a bath in a highly toxic heavy metal that can lead to pretty much any conceivable sickness, from mild diarrhea to the literal melting of your brain stem.  And you if think hydrogen peroxide burns, try pouring the T-1000 over any open cut.

When it comes to medicinal mercury, the ancient Chinese were far and away the most creative and illustrative in their usage of this incredibly deadly and poisonous element.  The first recorded death caused by mercury poisoning happened to be the very first emperor of China in 210 B.C.  In other words, from the very FIRST time people actually SAW, with their own EYES, someone DIE from coming into contact with MERCURY, it took all of humanity 2000 years to realize that mercury is not only unhealthy, but outright DANGEROUS.  What if it took humanity 2000 years to realize that staying under water too long would kill you?

Anyway, the first recorded victim of mercury poisoning was Qin Shi Huang who straight up drank mercury.  The reason he did something so blindingly perilous, and unknowingly committed suicide was because he was terrified of death and wanted to achieve immortality, not through his works, but by not dying.  He believed that mercury would grant him everlasting life.  Not only did it not work, it had the opposite effect of what it was intended to do.  Again, not only was it the not right medical practice, it was the completely wrong one.  In the words of that old knight guy from The Last Crusades: “He chose poorly”.

Flash forward 2000 years to post Civil War America, where mercury is used worldwide as a miracle drug, which kinda makes me want to antagonize a shark, because I don’t understand how it could have that reputation, when it never worked at all, in any instance.  Mercury was so commoditized that people were taking it in different ways.  Mercury now came in pill form, Americans in particular, were using it as a laxative by shoving it up their asses, and also as a cure for urethral infections by applying it exactly where you think they’d apply it.

Before medicine was invented, everyone around the world from the U.S.A. to Sweden to China thought that mercury was the cure for Syphilis as well.  When their mercury therapy wouldn’t work, or the patient would inevitably get sicker, doctors used the leech excuse: “The disease has past the point of being curable”, instead of “We’re not even giving you a cure, and the reason why you’re symptoms are getting worse is because we’re actually forcing you to drink a Terminator”.  Because mental delusions and general insanity are symptoms of both mercury poisoning and syphilis, no one realized that mercury therapy for syphilitics was a bad idea.  In fact it wasn’t until the late 1860s when some random physician began to have doubts about the restorative properties of mercury…of which there are none.  However, it took almost 50 years for his ideas to take flight and escape criticisms.  And now 100 years after that, we’ve realized that mercury is so dangerous, we won’t even put it in plastic tubes any more.

Modern medicine is great; not only for the fact that we’ve done a lot right, but more importantly, because we stopped doing the wrong things.  Instead of electrocuting a man’s testicles to stimulate more sperm production, now doctors tell you to just wear boxers.  Instead of giving heroin to anyone with a cold, we have Nyquil.  Instead of drinking piss to whiten teeth, we have toothpaste to do the job now.  How could things that seem so harmful have been used as remedies for way too long?  Did common sense not exist before 1920?

A kid who gets mercury applied to every cut and bruise he’s ever gotten, now goes crazy from mercury delirium and the only way to fix the problem is to cut out half of his brain and turn him into a dribbling vegetable.  The doctor had to be thinking the following in this scenario:

 

Doctor: Well, he’s not crazy anymore, since he doesn’t really have a brain left.  Eh, good enough.

Why did people think drilling holes in someone’s brain was a good idea?  Or that female infertility could be cured by drinking the menstruation of another woman?  What the fuck was everyone thinking for over 2000 years?  I’m just happy that we don’t do stuff like this anymore, but kinda speechless as to why it took so long to realize that those kinds of remedies are horrible, horrible ideas.  No more spare leeches lying around the doctor’s office, and no more mercury in the medicine cabinet, right next to the heroin.  Vaccines, antibiotics, and everything else is just icing on the cake.  But, I’m sure in a few decades even, people will look back on early 21st century medicine and say “What the fuck were they thinking?  Why would they do that?  That’s not what you’re supposed to do”.  These hysterics brought on from hindsight and commonsense seem to be a pretty common sentiment all throughout humanity, especially when it comes to science and medicine.  Let’s all give it up for Advil-Mercury free since 1974.

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