Before tuberculosis was treated with chemotherapy and antibiotics, doctors used plombage thoracoplasty, also known as collapse therapy, to forcibly collapse the lungs and allow the organ to rest and heal faster. The practice, which emerged in the 1930s, required creating a cavity under the upper ribs and filling that space with paraffin wax, rubber sheets, ping-pong balls, and other materials that put pressure on the lungs to keep them from inflating. Unsurprisingly, patients experienced a whole range of serious complications affecting the lungs and even the esophagus, heart, and skin.

Disease Trivia: Plombage Thoracoplasty of Incredible Treatment
Disease Trivia: Plombage Thoracoplasty of Incredible Treatment

Surgeons pulled the plug on plombage thoracoplasty in the 1950s, after which few of the last wave of patients made it out alive long after the surgery. Today, doctors still use the treatment for certain conditions, such as empyema, in which pus collects between the lungs and inner surface of the chest wall. However, it is important to note that plombage thoracoplasty has never been evaluated with randomized trials, so it remains a step in the dark for the medical community.

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