Sacramento’s collection of odd and horrifying medical devices

An iron lung, snake oil and antique prosthetic body parts are just the start inside Sacramento’s Museum of Medical History.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — You may know that Sacramento is home to the State Capitol and the Tower Bridge. But what you may not know is that Sacramento is also home to a fully functioning iron lung, and it’s located at the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society’s Museum of Medical History.

For those who don’t know what an iron lung is, it was life-saving device that helped people paralyzed by the poliovirus breath properly. Museum curator Dr. William Vetter says the tube-shaped device was big enough to hold a full-grown adult.

“There were people who spent their lives in here,” Vetter says.

The Sacramento Sierra Valley Medical Society is the oldest medical society in the state, operating since 1868.

“We provide quality control for the practice of medicine,” Vetter said.

They also collect old, outdated and sometimes fake medical artifacts like bottles of snake oil.

“It didn’t usually cure anything,” Vetter said.

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In the medical field, dishonest or pretend medicine like snake oil is known as “quackery,” and there was a lot of it throughout history.

Along with snake oils, the museum houses outdated medical instruments like a set of reusable injection needles.

“When the needle got dull you pulled out your sharpening stone and sharpened the needle,” Vetter said.

From prosthetic limbs to the collection of gallstones, Vetter says those who visit the museum of medical history should walk away with a very important message.

“Medicine is always a science that is progressing. We always make progress,” Vetter said.

The Museum of Medical History is now open Tuesday-Friday by appointment. Book a tour here.

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