Via "A new method of relieving such persons as are thought to be suffocated, or drowned," a hopefully titled document published in 1748 by French physician Jean-Jacques Bruhier, comes what today seems a pretty hopeless method of relieving such persons as are thought to be suffocated, or drowned, namely: the tobacco smoke enema.

By kind permission of John Overholt, Curator of Early Modern Books & Manuscripts at Harvard's Houghton Library, the document appears in its totality at the end of this post. But the information we're looking for appears about halfway through the third paragraph, which tells the story of a man reviving his drowned wife (emphasis added):

Monsieur Thomas, Swon-Surgeon at Paris, waiting... in a Passage-Boat till all the Passengers were come on Board, saw a Ferry-Boat come to Shore, which had just crossed the River with Passengers; and, among others, landed a Man who immediately on landing enquired after his Wife: None could give him any Tidings of her but a young Child, who pointing to the River, told him, she had hid herself there. It seems she had fallen from the hind Part of the Boat into the River, without any Body on Board perceiving it, except the Child. The Husband on this gets into the Boat, and goes back again, having no other Guide than the young Child, and found his Wife in a shallow Place full of Mire: She was instantly drawn out, and laid on the shore; when (while the Standers-by were giving their Advice, some to hang her up by the Heels, and other proposing various Methods,) a Soldier going by and being told what was the Matter, desired the Husband to comfort himself, for that his Wife should soon come to Life; then, giving him his Pipe, bid him to put the End into her Anus, and blow the Smoke up with all his Might, putting the Bowl of the Pipe covered with a pricked Paper into his Mouth, the fifth Puff made the Woman's Belly grumble very loud, she threw up some Water, and then recovering her Senses she sat up an End. By this time Mr. Thomas's Boat was filled, and went off on its Voyage, after having assured the Husband that his Wife was out of Danger. He often looked back to see what would become of the Woman, and saw her walk into a Publick House, where she got such Refreshment as enabled her to go Home.


This method for reviving the drowned," notes Overholt, "is no longer recommended" – though belief in the tobacco smoke enema's resuscitative effects, he tells io9, "seems to have been surprisingly common." As Jan Bondeson writes in Buried Alive: The Most Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear:

Such enemas of tobacco smoke were thought to be very beneficial... In 1784, the Belgian physician P.J.B Previnaire was given a prize by the Academy of Sciences in Brussels for a book on apparent death, which described and depicted an improved bellows for enemas of tobacco smoke, which he called Der Doppelbläser. These enemas were regularly used well into the nineteenth century, particularly in Holland; modern science has discerned no physiological rationale for their use, except that the pain and indignity of having a blunt instrument violently thrust up one's rear passage must have had some restorative effect.

As it turns out, violent thrusting may have been the secret to more than one 18th century devices for testing and rekindling life. Bonderson describes one such apparatus, which was based on a principle "directly opposite" that of the tobacco smoke enema:

It had been observed that the sphincters of the intestinal tract relaxed after death and that this would facilitate the passage of air through the digestive tract. An eccentric inventor suggested that a nozzle should be forced down the corpse's throat, and a powerful air pump applied by two strong men; the grotesque scene that must have followed can be imagined by those familiar with deaad bodies, but remains mercifully hidden to laymen.