The Most Painful Medical Procedures Of Medieval Times

Published November 12, 2012
Updated December 11, 2019

Cataract Removal

Avoiding a trip to the eye doctor is something many people do very well today. And rightfully so. But journey back to the middle ages and you’ll want to kiss your optometrist the next time you see him or her.

To rid people of cataracts, physicians would often use a knife or needle to remove the cataract through the cornea, and force the eye lens out of the capsule and to the bottom of the eye. Thankfully, the influx of Islamic medicine eventually drove this primordial practice into retirement, replacing the knifing with suction methods.


Contemporary homeopathic medicine might seem like complete farce, but at least it’s not as likely to kill you. Dwale (pronounced dwah-lay) comprised all sorts of potions, elixirs and concoctions inspired partially by pagan medical remedies, however some of these potions were so potent that they could actually kill you.

Said remedies included lettuce juice, castrated boar gall, and hemlock juice — all of which were mixed with wine. And while these libations may have ended the illness, it was often only because they ended your life.

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Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.