A tale of two inventions

In my last post I wrote about an impressive operation performed in 1888 by the American surgeon George Ryerson Fowler, who successfully removed two bullets from a patient’s brain. Shortly after publishing that story I came across another of Fowler’s cases which, although not well known, deserves a place in the history books. It represented a significant milestone in … Read more

Painfully obvious

This spectacular case was published in the Medical Press and Circular, a leading Irish journal, in 1866. The author Dr Thomas Geoghegan was an eminent Dublin physician, particularly well known for his expertise in forensic medicine. (Dr Geoghegan makes a brief appearance in the book I’ve just finished writing, a true-crime thriller about an extraordinary Dublin murder case, … Read more

The cabbage catastrophe

In 1803 a surgeon from Dumbarton in Scotland, Alexander Hunter, wrote to the London Medical and Physical Journal to report this remarkable lucky escape:

An apprentice of William Ewing, a cooper, in this neighbourhood, had an ulcer on the fore-part of the tibia with considerable inflammation, for which he was ordered a poultice with acetate of lead.

Lead (II) acetateRead more

The carrot cataplasm

Pretty much any substance you care to mention has, at one time or another, been touted as a cure for cancer. The historic medical literature is littered with unsuccessful specifics for the disease. Many of them were deadly poisons such as arsenic or belladonna – indeed, the use of poisons has persisted, in a more sophisticated form, in contemporary chemotherapies.… Read more

The perils of a sneeze

A few months ago I wrote about the criminal who was lucky to recover after inhaling a fake gold earring. By chance I’ve just come across another case report written by the same Victorian surgeon, Bernard Pitts. Not a well-known figure, principally because he wrote little and shunned publicity. But he seems to have been a very good … Read more