"Disco felon"... was reported to NEJM by Frederick W. Walker and other doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in July 1979. "A 17-year-old girl came to the emergency room complaining of an infected finger," they wrote. "Physical examination showed... a classic felon [a painful inflammation of the finger, usually near the fingernail] of the left middle finger... the patient had noticed a small crack on her finger... She thought that the crack might have resulted from snapping her fingers while she was disco dancing..."
The doctors treated the girl by draining and bandaging the inflammation. She recovered, but Walker and his associates sounded a dire warning to other disco dancers and their doctors. "Disco dancing may eventually be shown to damage a variety of body systems: namely visual, auditory, orthopedic, and nutritional. [Nutritional] damage might result from self-imposed starvation in an attempt... to wear the latest outfits."
Back in the late 1970s, Dr. Lowell Somers, chief of staff at Redbud Community Hospital, made headlines by claiming to have discovered that cocaine could cure arthritis. Somers explained that he discovered this by observing his identical twin cousins, Chuck and Rick. Chuck had arthritis, but Rick didn't. And Rick was a cocaine user, while Chuck wasn't.
Somers said he had successfully treated a dozen rheumatoid patients with cocaine. His procedure:
Somers' patients take the powder by sniffing it through a straw or chewing it on a piece of cotton. They take about four doses of 100 milligrams each day, but the frequency is later reduced.
Santa Rosa Press Democrat - Apr 13, 1979
It didn't take long for authorities to shut him down, which they did by charging that he was addicted to demerol and cocaine, and revoking his medical license. I guess he was taking the cure himself. Some info from The Oklahoman:
The California licensing board told The Oklahoman... that Somers was placed on probation in 1980 for addiction to demerol and cocaine; that he later was paroled but was placed on probation again in 1984 for 10 years for violating terms of that probation. A complaint signed by the California agency chairman states that Somers was examined by psychiatrists and found to be suffering from a psychosis; that he treated patients with a mixture of cocaine and hydrochloride and that he "manifested a sincere belief in the value of his treatments with cocaine."
This sidestepped the issue of whether he may actually have been right about the medical benefit of cocaine for people with arthritis. It doesn't seem entirely implausible to me.
On the other hand, there's quite a bit of literature about the potential medical benefits of coca leaves, which people have been consuming in South America for thousands of years. Although coca leaves are a far cry from the pure cocaine Somers was using.
Researchers have invented a straw that, they claim, will cure hiccups. They call it the HiccAway. From the product page:
HiccAway can instantly stop hiccups by generating enough pressure while sipping from the device to lower the diaphragm while simultaneously activating the leaf-shaped flap in the throat, known as the epiglottis. Doing this stimulates two key nerves, the phrenic and the vagus nerves, which are responsible for the hiccups. This allows the brain to reset and stop hiccups.
And here's some more hiccup cures, from an article I wrote for about.com (back when the site still existed):
For many years, doctors only had one remedy of last resort to offer those suffering from hiccups — to crush the phrenic nerve. This procedure was done on the theory that irritation of this nerve was causing the hiccups.
But in the second half of the 20th century, researchers stumbled upon some less-invasive, but definitely odd, hiccup cures.
The first of these was reported by Dr. Erminio Cardi of Rhode Island in an August 1961 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Cardi had discovered that he was able to cure the hiccups of several patients simply by using a cotton swab to manipulate a hair in their external ear canal. He confessed that this treatment was "seemingly unorthodox," but it worked. He theorized that it did so because the hair had been irritating a nerve that triggered the hiccup response.
And if examination of the ear revealed no hair irritant? No problem. In that case "twirl a stick tipped with cocaine-soaked cotton in the ear," instructed the doctor.
Nowadays doctors are more likely to use lidocaine than cocaine, but the principle remains the same.
The second cure is even more unorthodox, but again, it seems to work. In an August 1988 issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Francis Fesmire of Jacksonville, Florida reported that a "digital rectal massage" (aka a finger up the bum) had unexpectedly cured a patient of hiccups. Fesmire didn't record what inspired him to think of this technique, but the reason why it worked, he suggested, was similar to the ear method — because it calmed an overactive nerve. Several other doctors have subsequently reported success using this technique.
Another case of an odd brand extension. In 1927, the manufacturer of Listerine debuted Listerine Cigarettes that were infused with the same antiseptic oils used in the mouthwash.
The company claimed that these cigarettes would not only "soothe the delicate membranes of mouth and throat," just like the mouthwash, but also that they would "kill 200,000,000 germs in fifteen seconds" and help smokers avoid colds.
As far as I can tell, Listerine Cigarettes remained on the market until the mid-1930s and then disappeared.
In 1933, Donald Campbell, a truck driver, fell from his truck and hit his head. A year later he developed a bizarre condition. He started talking incessantly, non-stop. His talking was so compulsive that he couldn't even sleep. His talking was perfectly rational. He answered questions clearly. But he couldn't stop.
Doctors attributed his condition to encephalitis, or brain swelling. After about a month his non-stop talking subsided, and doctors thought he had recovered. But within four months he was dead. Strangely, the cause of his death was cancer and seemed to be unrelated to his non-stop talking.
Pottsville Evening Herald - Aug 17, 1934
Pittsburgh Press - Sep 5, 1934
Cincinnati Enquirer - Jan 6, 1935
Update — A newspaper recorded an example of some of Campbell's rambling monologue:
Cigarets should never be taxed in Ohio. When I was a boy, Joe and I used to go swimming in Willow Creek together. Now he thinks cigarets should be taxed. Sometimes I believe that Joe doesn't realize how hard it is to be a truck driver in Columbus. But I am not getting any better. The radio seemed nice last night although truck driving wasn't mentioned. We will take the whole thing up when we get home, but I'm not getting any better, do you think?
According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, when hospital workers in Southern California used a handheld Doppler device to check the pulse of a 65-year-old man who had recently had both hips replaced, they heard music. Other Doppler devices also picked up music seeming to come from inside the man. However, they didn't hear music from any other patients. The doctors concluded that the man's prosthetic hips were picking up a radio station.
LiveScience.com has identified the song his hips were playing as "Gracias Por Tu Amor" by Banda El Recodo De Cruz Lizarraga.
In 1952, in response to growing concerns about the safety of cigarettes, the Lorillard Tobacco Company introduced Kent cigarettes, boasting that they contained a "Micronite filter" developed by "researchers in atomic energy plants".
Turned out that the key ingredient in the Micronite filter was asbestos. From wikipedia:
Kent widely touted its "famous micronite filter" and promised consumers the "greatest health protection in history". Sales of Kent skyrocketed, and it has been estimated that in Kent's first four years on the market, Lorillard sold some 13 billion Kent cigarettes. From March 1952 until at least May 1956, however, the Micronite filter in Kent cigarettes contained compressed carcinogenic blue asbestos within the crimped crepe paper. It has been suspected that many cases of mesothelioma have been caused specifically by smoking the original Kent cigarettes.
The use of chlorine gas to cure the common cold was suggested by observations that men who worked in chlorine plants to manufacture the noxious gas during the war were remarkably free of colds and flu. The same was true of soldiers on the front lines exposed to the pungent, biting fumes of chlorine, compared with those in the rear. A hundred years earlier, physicians had noted that people who worked and lived in the vicinity of bleaching establishments had fewer respiratory infections than others.
Chlorine was thought to act as a kind of thorn-in-the-flesh therapy. Vedder (dubbed "the chemical warrior" by Time magazine) proposed that "the irritant action of chlorine stimulates the flow of secretion and cleanses the mucous surfaces," resulting in "productive coughing and blowing of the nose." Through its oxidizing action, the gas was also thought to rid the body of toxins and fuel the activity of white blood cells useful in the attack against offending microbes.
Practically overnight, chlorine therapy became a popular treatment for victims of colds, bronchitis, and whooping cough... For the general public, there was Chlorine Respirine, 50 treatments for $0.50 in a handy collapsible tube, each dose purported to "knock a cold in three hours."
Controlled experiments eventually debunked the idea that chlorine gas had any curative value. Though I'm not sure how to explain why people exposed to chlorine didn't seem to catch colds as often. Perhaps it was just mistaken, anecdotal evidence. Or perhaps the chlorine gas was sterilizing surfaces, helping to prevent the transmission of germs.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.