Would you believe it?

Historical medical facts (and fictions) to expand the mind

“Blowing tobacco smoke into the anus of a semi-conscious person will revive them."


True today? Believed in the past? Entirely made up?

Unbelievably, the tobacco enema was medical practice in the past (and the origin of the phrase to blow smoke up someone’s…well, you know the rest). 

In the late eighteenth century it was a popular method for reviving people pulled from the Thames – and special kits to aid administration were placed at strategic points along the river.

This intriguing snippet of health history is just one of many in the Mind-Boggling Medical History game. Each question challenges players to identify whether a statement is current belief, something that was considered a fact in the past or a red herring entirely made up by the game’s creators.

While the game is undoubtedly great fun, it’s also educational and can be used by everyone from nursing students to those studying GCSE history and museum visitors. You can also play the game online where your answers are recorded anonymously to build a picture of the general understanding of medical history.

The resource is a partnership between the RCN, Constructing Scientific Communities at Oxford University and was co-created by RCN staff member and medical historian Dr Sarah Chaney with Dr Sally Frampton and Sarah Punshon. 

Sarah Chaney said: “It’s been great fun putting the game together, especially researching strange and unusual ideas from health care past and present and testing them at festivals and events. It really helped bring the history of medicine to life for me, but also made me realise how much intriguing new research is out there that will change health care in the future!"

So, can drinking beer increase a woman’s fertility?

Can cycling permanently damage your face muscles? And can a combination of onion, garlic and cow bile really help kill infections? You’ll need to head to the Mindboggling Medical History website to discover the current truth or enter our competition to win a copy of the game (scroll down to find out more).

In the meantime, why not test yourself with our teaser questions:


 Question 1:

MIND: Mouse droppings can be used as an ingredient in smelling salts

Past, present or fiction?


scroll down for the answer...


Pattern

FICTIONAL

Smelling salts were widely used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to revive swooning women and to help with nervous headaches or sudden frights. However, smelling salts were not mice droppings, but a chemical compound called ammonium carbonate.

Play on the website to read the full answer

Question 2:

BODY: Scientists can make brain cells from urine

Past, present or fiction?

scroll down for the answer...


Pattern

PRESENT

In 2012, Chinese scientists announced that they had been able to reprogram cells taken from urine into neural progenitor cells which are the precursors of brain cells. When transplanted into newborn rat brains, and examined four weeks later, the urine cells had begun to exhibit the genetic markers of brain cells.

Play on the website to read the full answer


Question 3:

SEX AND REPRODUCTION: Eye infections in babies can be treated with human breast milk

Past, present or fiction

scroll down for the answer...


Pattern

PRESENT

Breast milk has historically been used to treat eye infections in babies, with one eighteenth century medical text describing how it “cools and cures red eyes simply of itself”. In fact, it is still used today across the globe to help cure sticky eyes in infants.

Play on the website to read the full answer


 Question 4:

TREATMENT: Heroin is a non-addictive alternative for morphine used in cough medicine

Past, present or fiction?

scroll down for the answer...


Pattern

PAST

It might be hard to believe but at the beginning of the twentieth century heroin was sold as a medicine to treat coughs. In 1906 the American Medical Association approved its use. As you might expect, reports soon flooded in that users became quickly hooked on the new substance.

Play on the website to read the full answer

 Question 5:

SOCIETY: Female professional trampolinists are usually incontinent.

Past, present or fiction?

scroll down for the answer...


Pattern

PRESENT

During trampolining the pelvic floor is exposed to high forces due to the impact of landing. Our pelvic floor muscles are what give us control over our bladder and bowel, and damage to them can lead to incontinence.

Play on the website to read the full answer



Thirsty for more knowledge?

Play on the Mind-Boggling Medical History website and access more questions and resources for nurse educators and school teachers.

Win!

For a chance to win one of five printed card packs and answer booklets, email your name to rcn.library@rcn.org.uk  before 20 July – putting “medical game” in the subject line.

Mindboggling medical histories game

  

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