Legend has it that in 1780, while dissecting a frog, Italian Luigi Galvani simultaneously touched its muscles with a steel scalpel and a copper hook-holder. To Galvani’s amazement, the dead animal’s paw twitched. The reason was the electric current generated in the galvanic pair created by the instruments: it caused the muscles to contract. Galvani called this phenomenon animal electricity. The era of bioelectromagnetism began.
The idea of electricity as the driving force of all life quickly captured the minds of Galvani’s contemporaries. Time this is favored by the trendy words “electricity” and “magnetism” has opened all doors and wallets. Including patients ‘ wallets.
The most striking manifestation of the General enthusiasm was the experiments with human corpses, which were conducted by the Scot Andrew Yure. He claimed that electrical stimulation of the diaphragmatic nerve could not only cause the limbs of the recently deceased to move, but also bring them back to life. Here’s how he describes a public experiment to ” revive” the body of a recently executed murderer:
Every muscle in his body was convulsed, like a violent shiver from the cold. As I moved the second electrode from my hip to my heel, the knee-bent leg straightened with such force that it nearly knocked one of the assistants trying to hold it down… Then every muscle in his face became involved in a terrifying game of grimaces of suffering, anger, horror, despair, and ghastly grins… at this point, horror and disgust caused some of the spectators
While Yur conducted free public experiments, there were those who saw in the fashionable topic great prospects for the medical business. In 1796, the American physician Elisha Perkins invented and patented a device that he called extenders. It consisted of two rods, copper and steel, with one pointed end, 3 inches each. Perkins claimed that his invention cured pain, inflammation, gout, rheumatism, pleurisy, and almost any other disease. It was easy to apply them: the pointed ends were pressed for some time in a certain way on the diseased part of the body. Perkins sold his instruments at twenty-five dollars a pair, which, in terms of the purchasing power of the dollar in our time, would be about five hundred dollars.
Despite the high price, the extenders were incredibly popular. Perkins had an extraordinary marketing talent-he came up with advertising techniques, which are now readily used by sellers of alternative medicines. He was probably one of the first to position his method not as part of medical practice, but as an alternative to it. Together with the stretchers, the buyer received detailed instructions for self-treatment of himself and his loved ones at home. When you consider that for five hundred dollars you do not just get another medicine, and themselves turned into a doctor, the amount does not seem much too high. Completely replacing the expensive visits of doctors, stretchers are guaranteed to pay for themselves. For example, in England, where they cost five guineas  (and four at the time of the sale), a standard doctor’s visit cost a Guinea. One of Perkins ‘ admirers, Dr. fuller, explained the cool attitude of most doctors to stretchers:
It would be an extraordinary act of virtue and humanity on the part of a physician whose earnings depend upon the sale of medicines, or the receipt of a Guinea for a prescription, to say to his patient “”you Had better buy stretchers for your family: they will treat you, and you will not have to pay for my visits and be exposed to For obvious reasons, do not expect that doctors will ever recommend them. Pullers should count on the support of only those members of the profession who are inclined to charity, or those who have retired, do not practice and who have no other interests than helping the suffering.
Sellers of miracle drugs still like to explain the criticism of Orthodox medicine by the fact that it is simply afraid to disappear as unnecessary. If you hear something similar, it’s a Wake-up call: chances are you’re dealing with another Perkins. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Perkins actively used to promote the pullers of famous and influential people. He invited what we would now call opinion leaders to sessions to demonstrate the extraordinary properties of his invention, and at the end collected letters of recommendation from those of them who managed to impress. Pamphlets describing cases of healing were published and distributed, lavishly laced with quotations from famous and high-ranking patients or witnesses. With the advice and help of friends, Perkins was able to organize a demonstration even in the U.S. Congress. This added to his many supporters among congressmen and other famous people. The first President of the United States, George Washington,  was so impressed that he purchased a pair of extenders for himself and his family. Subsequently, this fact was necessarily mentioned in all advertising brochures and books.
The story of the creation of the extenders told by Perkins ‘ son is curious. While operating on the patient, Elisha Perkins noticed that the touch of a metal instrument on the patient’s muscle causes it to twitch. Probably, as in Galvani’s experiment, a steel scalpel came into contact with an instrument of another metal and created a galvanic pair. Interested in animal electricity, Perkins began to notice that sometimes his patients were relieved by the touch of metal (and what else!) the instrument before the procedure is completed. For example, it could be said that the pain subsided immediately after Perkins cut the gum with a scalpel, although the diseased tooth had not yet been removed.
Perkins attributed these observations to the curative influence of metals, and began to select for future extenders the optimal shape and material, settling, as we know, on a pair of rods of steel and copper. It is now impossible to ascertain how true this story is, or whether Perkins was a conscious charlatan. Perhaps, like many creators of miraculous remedies, he sincerely believed in the effectiveness of his invention.
The appearance of the stretchers caused a controversial reaction among doctors. The medical society of Connecticut declared Perkins a crook and expelled him from its ranks. But some colleagues believed him, actively supported and promoted his device. It was a commercial success not only in the United States, but also in a number of European countries. Perkins ‘ son Benjamin went overseas to open a branch of the family business in London, and in a few years made a huge fortune. Benjamin did not confine himself to selling his father’s invention to the wealthy. He organized a successful campaign in London to raise donations for the opening of a clinic for the poor. It is clear that it was supposed to be treated only with stretchers. The most famous philanthropist Lord rivers became the President of the clinic, in honor of its opening, a lavish dinner was arranged, at which poems dedicated to the stretchers were read.
Indeed, unlike many predecessors and contemporaries, the Perkins family did not attempt to explain their method by any theory. Having mentioned electricity and “animal magnetism” in the most General terms, they preferred not to go into details. Being modern in every respect, in light of the growing influence of empiricism, they insisted that the evidence for the effectiveness of extenders was based solely on experience of their application. What difference does it make how they work if they work?!
In one of his promotional books, Perkins Jr. wrote:
I foresee that the proponent of speculative physiology is already preparing to learn from the discoverer of the Metal Treatment its theoretical justification and to ask how all these effects were produced? To this I can answer that the theory has not yet been published. Dr. P.’s favorite principle is that the intelligent physician should abandon the flower-strewn path of reasoning for the more difficult path of experimentation, and build his theories, as far as possible, on the solid Foundation of facts. These facts he must establish on the evidence of his perception, accompanied by critical and impartial observations – only they can determine the error or confirm the truth.
James Lynde and Francis bacon would have signed every word. But in order to remain “critical and impartial”, it is not enough to conduct an experiment. The experiment should be set so as to exclude the influence on the outcome of factors other than the studied method of treatment. And soon such experiment followed.
After the success of the stretchers, Perkins Sr. became interested in infectious diseases. He began to experiment with antiseptics, which he first used to treat dysentery, and then decided to try against yellow fever. Arriving in the midst of the epidemic in new York, Perkins gave the press an announcement that he was ready to treat at home all comers without exception. After four weeks of intensive work, he died. In 1799, long before the advent of Microbiology, Perkins could not have known that ingesting antiseptics was useless against the liver-infecting yellow fever virus. Let’s give Elisha Perkins credit: he remained in history the inventor of one of the most advertised medical pacifiers, but died, risking himself in search of a cure for a deadly disease. There’s not much black and white in the history of medicine.