Rectofumigator


I was looking at pictures of old medical devices. Fantastically and fascinatingly gruesome! Then, I saw it: 
The device was rather unremarkable itself. It was the label, the concept it represented, the fact that there was even a label for such a concept that was intriguing. More than intriguing actually. It was one of the instances when you come across a word, and everything. Just. Stops. 

And you just know that nothing will ever be the same. Like evolution,  relativity, and frappuccino. Like merkin and allochezia. Like tobacco enema fumigator!? "Surely, that cannot mean what I think it means!" I had to google it. Apparently, people, wise, educated people thought tobacco smoke in the rectum could revive drowning victims and treat other ailments.

I wonder whether this is where the expression "blowing smoke in ones ass" comes from.

I had to make sure that it was wikipedia and not the uncyclopedia. Wiki says it was first practiced by Native Americans. I cannot imagine someone walking along a pond and coming across someone who had drowned and their first thought being "I should blow smoke up his ass." Now don't get me wrong, I haven't been in California so long that use of tobacco is utterly incomprehensible. I can completely understand considering smoke in someone's mouth...maybe it will stimulate their lungs...maybe it will warm them up...maybe it will make them cough... But, what would possess someone to even consider putting smoke in someone's rectum? 

One of my brother's friends could smoke cigarettes down there, but he was not treating anything other than perhaps teenaged angst or ennui, and I'm fairly certain that he didn't discover this talent/pastime in any sort of emergency situation — undoubtedly quite the contrary. I'm sure cannibalism would come to most people's minds before a smoke enema. On a bridge, you think "I could jump off"; you see a dead body, you think "I could eat that." Of course most people are troubled by such thoughts and push them immediately out of their mind. But, smoke in an ass? That is a different kind of thought —  a considered thought, an experienced thought, an afterthought born from the sudden regret that inevitably follows consumption of human ham: "Damn, I could have smoked that."

I bet it was quite accidental; there he was walking along a pond and came across a drowning victim. He was smoking like a fiend because he was a fiend. In rolling the drowning victim over to gain access, the airway was cleared and the victim revived: "My goodness, I do declare: Sir, I believe your head is in my derriere!" Surprised and caught, the smoking, opportunistic analinguist quickly explains "You were drowned, and I tried to revive you...by...by blowing smoke up your ass...I know, I know, it sounds weird, but the Indians...yeah, the Indians taught me to do it...and it worked!... and it worked? and it worked!?...that's the most important thing, isn't it...you're alive...thank God you're alive!".

But, in the context of drowning, the procedure was not simply literal and figurative smoke up your ass. It would be sometime before anyone would realize that step one of this treatment (turn victim over) alone was more or less equally effective. One can only imagine how the subsequent steps and elaborate instruments came about, or  especially how it came to be a treatment for cancer, respiratory problems, gout, "female diseases" and headaches — surely nothing but smoke up your ass!

Now I know that just having something done makes people feel better: this is the placebo effect. Still, if I have a headache, I think I would much prefer a sugar pill.  But, everyone knows there are no gains without out pains, and, apparently, the more pain the more gain. Intrigued by the title, I picked up the book The Emporer's New Drugs. It presented metaanalyses on various drugs for depression. Those that had unpleasant side effects were all equally (non)effective. Surely, the drugs that effect dopamine make people happy or at least high. Apparently, not in any meaningful way. I guess I'm not totally surprised though. I think you can be high and depressed at the same time. I can't imagine that addicts and alcoholics are the antithesis of depression.

I wonder about shock treatment. I had always suspected that it worked because it tortured people into pretending not to be depressed. But, now it is done under anesthesia, I think. [Yes, it is still done. The brochure I received from Blue Cross presented it as one of several options for treatment after I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist.] Maybe just knowing that you're going through something so gruesome helps. It feels like having the depression surgically removed; there's even an anesthesiologist. At the very least, it provides a diversion. Maybe that's why side effects amplify the placebo effect. I bet tobacco smoke enemas would be just as effective in treating depression as antidepressants.

I wonder whether people in 200 years will look back on our treatments for depression like we look back on than tobacco smoke enemas.

I wonder whether much of psychiatry isn't just blowing smoke up ones ass. 

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