Bled dry

Most visitors to this blog will probably be aware that for centuries bloodletting played a central role in Western medicine.  This is partly the result of the extraordinarily long-lasting  influence of the Greek physician Galen, whose humoral theory underpinned medical practice until the Renaissance. Strangely, bleeding remained commonplace until much later, persisting well into the … Continue reading Bled dry

Better late than never

Today’s medical journals pride themselves on their topicality, publishing the latest research as soon as it’s available – but those news values did not apply in 1845, when the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal agreed to publish a case report almost half a century old. It was sent to them by a retired surgeon, William … Continue reading Better late than never

The man with a snake in his heart

I was fascinated to stumble across this seventeenth-century autopsy report in an old edition of the British Medical Journal.  It was unearthed by Benjamin (later Sir Benjamin) Ward Richardson, one of the great figures of Victorian medicine. His name is less familiar today than that of his friend John Snow, the leading British exponent of … Continue reading The man with a snake in his heart

Evacuated with a spoon

In 1836 a doctor from rural Ireland, J.L. McCarthy, encountered a highly unusual case which he then reported to The Lancet.  The journal deemed it worthy of publication, although it is unlikely that many of its readers would ever need to know how to treat a patient suffering from this particular complaint: On Thursday, the … Continue reading Evacuated with a spoon

She cut off her nose with a carving knife

The image above shows the Jardin Royal (Royal Garden) in Paris – misleadingly named, since although it included a botanical garden it was primarily an educational institution. In addition to botany, it offered classes in chemistry, anatomy and surgery. One member of its faculty was the surgeon Pierre Dionis (c.1643-1718), who taught there for many … Continue reading She cut off her nose with a carving knife