Doctor Zoidberg is one of the reasons I love Futurama. His constant failures at curing even basic illnesses due to an awful understanding of human anatomy make every episode all the better. This is a look at 10 real doctors that were just as bad, if not worse, than Zoidberg.
Galen caused millions of deaths by popularizing Humorism – the belief that the human body is filled with black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. He had never seen the inside of a human body because Romans considered dissection sacrilegious and wrote most of his influential anatomy books by observing, reasoning, and mostly guessing. The Catholic Church demonstrated that it always has great ideas by declaring him the only authority on human anatomy, leading to centuries of Europeans believing that the brain was a phlegm clot.
2. Guy-Crescent Fagon
Louis XIV spent his entire reign turning France into the dominant European power, but spent his final years drunkenly stumbling around Versailles (and stinky) after Fagon put him on a diet of wine to cure a gangrenous foot. (It didn’t work.) Fagon then proved he was better suited to be a spy by wiping out most of Louis XIV’s living heirs in an attempt to cure an outbreak of measles through bleedings and forced vomiting. Louis XV, a baby at the time, survived only because his nurse refused to hand him over to Fagon. Louis XV’s reign signaled a drastic downturn in Bourbon popularity and power.
3. James Clark
Queen Victoria also had a doctor that helped change the United Kingdom’s history. Victoria and Prince Albert had turned the monarchy into a symbol of morality, but Clark killed Albert after he diagnosed his typhoid fever as the common cold. Victoria spent the rest of her life mourning. He then caused a huge scandal (by Victorian standards) when he diagnosed Flora Hastings, an unmarried lady-in-waiting, as pregnant. Two other doctors disagreed, citing that she was a virgin, but Clark convinced Victoria that he had run across other virgin births in his time. Victoria’s reputation was marred when Hastings died and an autopsy revealed that she had liver cancer.
4. Francis Willis
In the 18th century it was believed that the only way to cure mental patients was through restraint and beatings. The idea was to subdue to patient. Willis legitimized this by “curing” King George III’s insanity through torture, a straight jacket, and length of rope. Copycat sanitariums, each advertising even more brutal methods, quickly opened up and became booming businesses as dumping grounds for troublesome family members. At the height of the madhouse-for-sale craze, it was common for husbands to have their wives declared insane by physicians and to pay a yearly fee to keep her at a madhouse indefinitely.
5. Walter Freeman
The treatment of mental illness had not changed much since Willis’ time until the introduction of drugs in the ’50s. A decade before then, Freeman ushered in one of the darkest periods in psychiatry’s history by touting the “ice pick” lobotomy – where a sharp instrument is inserted through the eye socket to destroy the frontal lobes – as the cure for everything from depression to hyperactive children. It became incredibly popular, over 50,000 were performed, with Freeman performing over 3,000 himself in his lobotomobile. Freeman believed in lobotomies even after being discredited. He spent his final years visiting his victims, trying to prove they had benefited from his work.
6. William Arbuthnot-Lane
One of the most gifted surgeons of his time, Lane popularized colectomies because he believed evolution was steaming by so quickly that the colon was now a vestigial organ that caused all health problems. (He also believed that red heads could never get constipated.) He was quick to snip away lengths of the colon if a patient came to him with even minor ailments. His influence in royal circles turned colectomies into one of the most popular medical procedures for a while. It wasn’t until the Royal Society of Medicine in London discredited him that he started promoting a healthy lifestyle that involved eating a lot of fiber to solve one’s colon problems.
7. Shirō Ishii
World War II was a period when science and technology made leaps and bounds. On the Axis side some stomach turning methods were used to push medical science forward. Ishii, a covert medical researcher for the Japanese, used thousands of Chinese – whom he called “logs” – in brutal tests. He had limbs hacked off to study blood loss, had body parts frozen and thawed out to study frostbite, and had bombs strapped to live victims to test their effectiveness. He forced most of his staff to commit suicide after his unit was disbarred but personally accepted immunity in exchange for his data. Some believe he immigrated to the United States after the war, but no one really knows.
8. Josef Mengele
The German, and better known, counterpart to Ishii, Mengele performed weird experiments on concentration camp victims that ranged from trying to change eye color through chemical injections, using X-Ray machines to sterilize women, and dissecting live babies. He was obsessed with twins, and once spent a whole night cataloging the body parts of 14 Gypsy twins after injecting their hearts with chloroform. He even supervised an attempt to create conjoined twins by having two people sewn together. (It didn’t work.) He kept a troupe of dwarfs around him at all times and called them his family. He escaped to South America after the war and died while swimming in Brazil.
9. John R. Brinkley
Brinkley, a small town doctor with a diploma mill degree, popularized the practice of implanting of goat testicles in men after a farmer complained about his libido. Brinkley remembered that goats were especially virile and suggested implanting their testicular glands in the farmer. Nine months later the birth of the farmer’s son, aptly named Billy, turned Brinkley into one of the most popular doctors of the late 19th century until his license was taken away from him. The libidinous boost was entirely psychological, as the body simply absorbed the foreign glands, but people rarely came forward to decry Brinkley because he claimed it only worked on intelligent men.
10. Edward Bodkin
On the other extreme of testicles is Bodkin, a Bill Maher lookalike who was arrested for performing 5 unlicensed castrations in in 1999. He was going to perform a 6th until the man got cold feet and informed police Bodkin intended to castrate young boys. Bodkin advertised his services as a cutter – an underground surgeon – in ball fetishism magazines with the stipulation that the castrati allow him to sell tapes of the process. He kept his “trophies” in jars next to his fridge. When the state prosecutor was asked for a motive, he responded: “I can’t sit here as a reasonable human being and give you an intelligent answer to that.”