Baunscheidt’s Lebenswecker: The 19th-Century “Life-Awakener”
On an unspecified day in 1847, the German inventor Carl Baunscheidt sat in his own garden, suffering from the pain his hands caused by gout (or perhaps rheumatoid arthritis). The man tried to defend himself from the mosquitoes that were trying to sting him, but in the end one of those annoying bugs got the better of him, and he managed to poking him on his painful hand. As the classic and itchy mosquito bite formed, Baunscheidt realized that the pain was gradually alleviated.
The inventor later wrote, in his book Baunscheidtism, or a new method of cure, “how, quite simply and naturally, the morbid matter that can be inside the body can be extracted from the suffering areas and removed without loss of blood”.
In other words, Baunscheidt was convinced that the beak, or “artificial pore,” allowed the body’s poisons to escape, along with pain. The positive experience of the mosquito beak inspired Baunscheidt’s best-known invention, the Lebenswecker or “Life-Awakener” or the “Resuscitator”, an elegant ebony wood instrument, equipped with a spring that drives thirty thin steel needles.
From the middle of the 19th century, until about the 40s of the 20th, the “new method of treatment” was proposed to cure the most disparate diseases: from insomnia to epilepsy, from yellow fever to migraine. The patients had to pierce the skin, no more than two millimeters deep, with this “homeopathic” device, and then grease the bites with the Oleum Baunscheidt, which would have caused small pustules. The blisters, causing infected matter to come out, would have to heal from many diseases.
Baunscheidt, who was not a doctor, had already invented other medical devices (such as the breast-pump for the mother’s breast and a tool to carry out the anti-pox vaccination), but fame and economic fortune came with the Lebenswecker. To encourage the use of his instrument, the inventor developed a medical practice called Baunscheidtism, a sort of homeopathic system that referred to the ancient Greek theory of the four humours, according to which the body is controlled by black bile, yellow bile, phlegm (the mucus of the respiratory tract) and red mood (the blood): the imbalance between these four elements was considered the cause of many diseases. Humoral theory has influenced medicine for many centuries, and is still somehow followed in some forms of alternative medicine.
Patients, unhappy with traditional treatments and medications, could experience the Lebenswecker, removing the “disease-producing substances” through the holes caused by the needles, and then opting for a simple and direct treatment. The Lebenswecker was often sold together with the Oleum which, rubbed on the wounds with “a chicken feather or a small pen”, kept them open for a longer time. To give greater effectiveness to the treatment, the needles could be dipped directly into the oil before application. Baunscheidt stated that any disturbance could be cured with his invention: for the toothache it was necessary to pierce the nape, or between the shoulders, or behind the ear. Insomnia and baldness required bites along the spine, asthma on the chest.
It is known that the Lebenswecker, in 1854, was widespread in Germany and the United States, but also in Canada, Scotland, Chile and Italy. There are also testimonies on the good results obtained by the instrument: a patient from Ohio writes that he used it with “the happiest results” for his daughter’s hearing problems, a sore throat and a headache. The enormous success of the instrument and the oil gave rise to many imitations, but the original recipe of the Oberum Baunscheidt was kept secret. It seems that the great-grandson of the inventor gave, in 1974, the right composition to a pharmaceutical company (croton oil, mustard and pepper oil, tansy, pepper and olives).
Around the middle of the 20th century, the Lebenswecker mania began to decline, until it was almost completely exhausted (even if remains an opportunity at the Swiss clinic Paracelsus, which defines the therapy “acupuncture of the West”!). Today, his treatment is widely discredited because there isn’t clear link between the formation of pustules and the healing of any disease.