The Victorian surgeon Sir Jonathan Hutchinson was ‘one of the great medical geniuses of his time’, according to his entry in Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows, the biographical reference work curated by the Royal College of Surgeons. Hutchinson had an astonishing range of interests – he was an expert in infectious disease (the world’s leading authority on syphilis), in … Read more
I came across this case quite by chance, drawn in by a striking headline. But after investigating a little further I was amused to discover that one of those involved was an ancestor of mine.
This story was first published two centuries ago, in the Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society. The humane societies were organisations set up with … Read more
Victorian society was famously paranoid about the dangers of masturbation. For teachers, priests and those with responsibility for young people, it was a question of morals and the corruption of youth – but the medical profession also agreed that self-abuse was a vice with terrible consequences. The old cliché that the practice ‘makes you go blind’ was not said just … Read more
This story has a delightful combination of youthful misadventure and surgical ingenuity. OK, so ‘delightful’ might be a bit of a stretch, but I suspect you’ve never read anything quite like it. The case was first published in a French medical journal, the Journal des Connaissances Médico-chirurgicales, in 1847.
The headline translates as ‘Memoir and observations on a new … Read more
Richard Elkanah Hoyle was not a famous surgeon. He never invented a new operation, or contributed to a medical journal, or belonged to a learned society. But he was responsible for one of the most unusual tales you’ll ever hear.
In May 1845 a local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Chronicle, reported a mystery:
An intense sensation has been created in … Read more
This exceptional paper appeared in the Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal, a relatively minor publication, in 1888. Thanks to its sensational subject matter it was soon picked up by journals all over the world. The author was a general practitioner who worked mainly in Birmingham, Alabama:
In the spring of 1887 I was called to see Mrs. B., … Read more
This (almost) incredible case report was printed in The Medical and Physical Journal in 1812, but dates from almost forty years earlier, first appearing in the French medical literature.
A galley-slave, a native of Nantes, entered the marine hospital at Brest the 5th of September, 1774. He complained of cough, pains in the stomach, and bowels; for which M. de … Read more
I came across this unusual case in a book published in 1876, A Dozen Cases: Clinical Surgery by William Tod Helmuth, a distinguished homeopathic surgeon. The phrase ‘homeopathic surgeon’ might sound like a contradiction in terms, if all you know of homeopathy is sugar pills and massively diluted tinctures. But in nineteenth-century America, where homeopathy was one of several rival … Read more
Bloodletting is one of the oldest medical treatments of all, employed for centuries in cultures all over the world. It’s also become a sort of lazy shorthand for the ignorance of our ancestors, the prime example of a useless and harmful technique that doctors persisted in using despite no good evidence for its efficacy.
Although it was largely abandoned as … Read more
It’s been a while! I haven’t managed to post on this blog in months, thanks to a work-in-progress, a true-crime book, which has been keeping me occupied for most of the last year. Now, however, I find myself in compulsory quarantine having just moved back to the UK from Canada, and with time on my hands. So here is a … Read more