A wry view of life for the world-weary

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Twenty One

youngs dilators

Frank E Young

Haemorrhoids are a common complaint and at least in more refined circles have a certain social stigma attached to them. They are uncomfortable and drive the sufferer to such a level of distraction that they will try anything to soothe the pain. Naturally, they proved a fertile ground for practitioners of the art of quackery as Frank E Young of Chicago, the latest to come under our microscope, amply demonstrates.

Young came up with the perfect cure for those unfortunate enough to be afflicted by piles or, indeed, by constipation – the anal dilator. The theory was that well-trained muscles in the nether region would be able to deal with even the most solid of solids passing through your body. Badged as Dr Young’s Self-Retaining Rectal Dilators they came in four sizes – the largest was 4 inches long and an inch in diameter – in a handy box and retailed for $2.50. Initially, they were made of rubber but later versions were made of Bakelite. Some modifications were made to the original design, principally flattening the flange at the bottom of the dilator so that they could stand up on their own, unaided.

Young patented his device in 1892 but it was not until the first decade of the twentieth century that it was marketed widely to a grateful pile-suffering community. A trait of the successful quack is the shameless promotion of the alleged benefits of their cure and Young was no exception. According to newspaper adverts “they may be used by any intelligent person” – quite what he supposed an unintelligent person might do with them we will never know – and “their use accomplishes for the invalid what nature does daily for the healthy individual”. The claims grew even bolder – their usage would cure even the worst cases and were guaranteed to cure and to cure permanently. Who could resist?

But that was not all. Diligent use of the dilator would also promote refreshing sleep and improve acne, urticaria and anaemia. The adverts gushed reassuringly, “you need have no fear of using them too much”. Having purchased your dilator, you needed to warm it in warm water and then lubricate it with Piloment, a helpful aid that Frank developed. Failing that, Vaseline would do. Getting into a squatting position you would insert it into the rectum as far as the flange or rim, hold it in place and then sit or lie down with it in situ for up to 30 minutes for the best results, but ten minutes would suffice. Patients would start with the smallest of the four dilators and over time build up to the largest.

The original attempts to curtail the activities of quacks by legislation in the States focused on ingredients and so Young’s dilators stayed under the radar until the Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1938 extended its scope to the sale of medical devices. In 1940 a shipment of dilators and the accompanying lubricant, Piloment, was seized in New York and the manufacturers were sued on the basis of misbranding. The court accepted the argument that whilst the occasional use of a dilator may have some beneficial effects – and, indeed, some medical practitioners still hold that it is helpful for certain conditions – “it would be dangerous to health when used with the frequency and duration prescribed, recommended or suggested in the ..labelling”. The consignment was destroyed.

They are still available, albeit without the grandiose claims as to their efficacy, and are, doubtless, put to other uses!


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