The child who swallowed a pin

The eighteenth-century surgeon William Boys, although a distinguished clinician and Fellow of the Royal Society, was perhaps better known as an antiquary and historian of his home county of Kent. Among his published works is an account of the Luxborough Galley, a notorious shipwreck in which the few survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive – one of … Read more

Claws for concern

Philipp Franz von Walther was an eminent German surgeon highly regarded for his expertise in ophthalmology and as a pioneer in plastic surgery. While serving as professor at the University of Bonn he was also the co-editor of an influential periodical, the Journal der Chirurgie und Augenheilkunde. In 1822 he published this surprising clinical report, which was subsequently translated (and, … Read more

The tin box

Cases of unusual foreign objects can make entertaining reading, though often for the ‘wrong’ reasons. The medical literature is full of tales of bizarre items inserted in orifices where they weren’t meant to go, but such stories seldom add much to the sum of human knowledge – except perhaps provide yet more evidence of our capacity for folly.

This example … Read more

Odds bodkins

This fascinating case report was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1701, contributed by a distinguished Dublin physician, Thomas Molyneux. It is notable both for the unusual nature of the injury, and for the remarkably sophisticated surgery that followed.

Dorcas Blake, a full-bodied sanguine maid, of about twenty years old…

Ms Blake was ‘sanguine’ in a particular medical sense. Since … Read more

The baby who was bathed in a tumbler

One area in which medicine has made gigantic strides in the last thirty years is the treatment of very premature babies. Pregnancy lasts on average 40 weeks; a baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation is classed as premature. Most premature babies are born in what is known as the ‘late preterm’ stage, only two or three weeks earlier than … Read more

He swallowed a serpent

A curious phenomenon common to medical history and folklore is that of the bosom serpent – stories of snakes, frogs, lizards and other animals living inside the human stomach or intestines. According to the physician and medical historian Jan Bondeson, “no fewer than 68 case reports of live reptiles or amphibians inside the gastrointestinal tract” appeared in the professional literature … Read more