The electric centipede

In December 1831 The Lancet reported these strange goings-on in France:

Headache caused by centipede in the sinus

A farmer’s wife, twenty-eight years of age, residing in the neighbourhood of Metz, had for a long time been affected with an unpleasant itching sensation in the nose with coryza…

The OED informs me that coryza comes from the Greek κόρυζα, meaning ‘nasal mucous’. In colloquial English we … Read more

The first caesarean in Ireland

Caesarean section is now the most commonly performed major operation in many parts of the world. A study published in The Lancet a few months ago estimated that around 30 million caesareans take place worldwide every year; in the UK over a quarter of babies are now born by caesarean, some 175,000 per year.

References to the operation go back … Read more

An infinite number of worms

Many medicines prescribed by physicians of the past were chemicals now known to be highly toxic. Mercury, arsenic and antimony were among the harmful substances regularly administered for a variety of conditions. In this case, published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1759, a young boy was apparently cured by another chemical now known to be hazardous to health – but … Read more

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