The colonic carpentry kit

The ‘foreign correspondence’ pages of one 1861 issue of the Medical Times contain an eclectic selection of stories. The first concerns the ‘sucking apparatus of infants’ (i.e., babies’ mouths). But the following case was the one that caught my eye – headlined Foreign Body in the Transverse Colon: A very curious case of this affection … Continue reading The colonic carpentry kit

The healing power of nature

At the annual meeting of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in August 1844, a doctor from Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, Edward Daniell, presented this unusual case. He prefaced his account with the observation that it would ‘perhaps be interesting more from its novelty than for its value in a surgical point of view’. He … Continue reading The healing power of nature

The slugs and the porcupine

According to an old journalistic adage, if a newspaper headline contains a question the correct answer is always ‘no’. For instance, ‘Could x offer a cure for cancer?’, to which the answer is always ‘no’, whether x is ‘green tea’, ‘mushrooms’ or ‘snake oil’. This reliable rule of thumb, sometimes known as Betteridge’s Law, applies in spades … Continue reading The slugs and the porcupine

The 43-year pregnancy

In years gone by, it was quite common for a doctor to pass on his practice to one of his children: successive generations of medics might serve their local community for decades. The Watkins family, originally from the Northamptonshire town of Towcester, is an extreme example of such a dynasty: Timothy Watkins (1755-1834) was the … Continue reading The 43-year pregnancy

The other Horatio Nelson

The Canadian physician Henry Horatio Nelson was born six years after the Battle of Trafalgar, so it does not take much imagination to work out how his parents chose his middle name.  Perhaps understandably, he chose to call himself Horace Nelson, a name less likely to cause his patients to smirk. Although little known today, … Continue reading The other Horatio Nelson

The cheese knife lobotomy

This alarming headline was attached to a letter sent to The Lancet in 1838 by Dr Congreve Selwyn, a family physician in Cheltenham. His brief communication related the story of an unfortunate accident which had taken place in his practice some 17 years earlier: William Bishop, living at Hill Farm, Bosbury, Herefordshire, aged four years … Continue reading The cheese knife lobotomy

The seventy-year-old mother-to-be

Here’s a truly strange case that was reported in the Journal de Médécine de Paris in 1881. It concerns an elderly woman who was believed to have fallen pregnant. Such tales were commonly reported in the early medical literature – there are many to be found in 18th-century journals, for instance – but these examples … Continue reading The seventy-year-old mother-to-be

A receipt for making a rupture

In the 1820s the British physician John Cheyne made a special study of the numerous ways in which soldiers tried to get themselves invalided out of service. Cheyne is best known today as one of the first to identify Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a pattern of disordered breathing which is a useful diagnostic sign in identifying several … Continue reading A receipt for making a rupture

The man whose intestines twinkled like stars

Every so often I read an old medical case that makes me wince and ask myself, “However did they recover from that?” This tale, reported 142 years ago in the Richmond and Louisville Medical Journal, falls squarely into this category. The initial injury was bad enough, but the circumstances of the case presented the surgeon … Continue reading The man whose intestines twinkled like stars