Evacuated with a spoon

In 1836 a doctor from rural Ireland, J.L. McCarthy, encountered a highly unusual case which he then reported to The Lancet.  The journal deemed it worthy of publication, although it is unlikely that many of its readers would ever need to know how to treat a patient suffering from this particular complaint: On Thursday, the … Continue reading Evacuated with a spoon

She cut off her nose with a carving knife

The image above shows the Jardin Royal (Royal Garden) in Paris – misleadingly named, since although it included a botanical garden it was primarily an educational institution. In addition to botany, it offered classes in chemistry, anatomy and surgery. One member of its faculty was the surgeon Pierre Dionis (c.1643-1718), who taught there for many … Continue reading She cut off her nose with a carving knife

The girl whose sweat turned black

Here’s a landmark case from the Philosophical Transactions, reported by the Plymouth surgeon James Yonge in 1709: A girl 16 years old, a daughter of Elizabeth Worth of this town, had about the end of last April a few hot pimples rise on her cheeks, which bleeding and a purge or two cur’d. She continued … Continue reading The girl whose sweat turned black

A nineteenth-century hacking scandal

In November 1870 a London surgeon took the unusual step of writing anonymously to The Times to complain about his son’s headmaster. The son in question was a boy at Rugby School, and the letter was headlined ‘Rugby and its Football’: Sir,–– I use the expression because to my mind the game as it is … Continue reading A nineteenth-century hacking scandal

The spider’s web cure

Until the nineteenth century, spider’s web was often used as a folk remedy for superficial lacerations. The great tensile strength of spider silk was probably quite effective at holding the edges of a wound together, although doubtless it also brought the risk of infection. Until I came across an article published in The Dublin Quarterly … Continue reading The spider’s web cure

The forty-foot tapeworm

Medical journals do not often publish articles by undergraduates these days, but an 1847 edition of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal included a short paper by one John D. Twiggs, described simply as a ‘student of medicine’. Mr Twiggs (we cannot call him ‘Dr’) betrays his inexperience in a certain lack of professional scepticism; … Continue reading The forty-foot tapeworm

A festive night in a Victorian emergency department

Christmas is always a difficult time of year for practitioners of emergency medicine. In the UK, accident and emergency departments brace themselves for a flood of injuries caused by alcohol; most years there will be at least one newspaper article about drinking culture in the UK and how it is placing intolerable strain on the … Continue reading A festive night in a Victorian emergency department

Pegged out

In 1865 a young eye surgeon from Gloucester, Robert Brudenell Carter, sent a series of case reports for publication in The Ophthalmic Review. Carter was an unusually accomplished individual whose achievements went far beyond surgery. He performed with distinction as an army surgeon in the Crimea, and his dispatches from the conflict were published in … Continue reading Pegged out