Centipedes in your bacon

Some truly bizarre goings-on were reported at the Exeter meeting of the Provincial Surgical and Medical Association in 1842.  A Dr Davis, of Presteign, made this report: A boy, fifteen years of age, the son of a labourer named Griffiths, living in the village of Bucknill, near Knighton, had for some months complained of pain … Continue reading Centipedes in your bacon

Catching a disease through an electric wire

Here’s something to get unnecessarily worried about: apparently it’s possible to catch a disease through an electric wire! As reported in the Medico-Chirurgical Review for 1833, a doctor treating a patient for a persistent case of ague (malaria) decided to try the fashionable galvanic therapy.  This entailed a regular course of electric shocks administered to … Continue reading Catching a disease through an electric wire

In event of drowning, blow smoke up bottom

Samuel Auguste André David Tissot was an eminent Swiss physician of the eighteenth century, best known as the author of one of the first scholarly studies of migraine, and for his much-cited work on the evils of masturbation, L’Onanisme. In 1761 he published Avis au Peuple sur sa Santé, a little book aimed at the … Continue reading In event of drowning, blow smoke up bottom

Death of a 152-year-old (or was he?)

William Harvey is deservedly one of the most famous physicians who ever lived.  His demonstration that the heart is a pump which circulates blood throughout the body was a triumph of early modern science, a discovery that revolutionised medicine. In addition to De Motu Cordis, the treatise in which he details the sophisticated experiments and … Continue reading Death of a 152-year-old (or was he?)

The combustible countess

Spontaneous human combustion became a fashionable topic in the early nineteenth century, when a number of sensational presumed cases were reported in the popular press.  Charles Dickens even killed off Krook, the alcoholic rag dealer in Bleak House, in this manner. Sometimes the body of the victim was the only thing that had been burnt, … Continue reading The combustible countess

At least it got rid of the tapeworm…

On the 14th of May, 1867, Dr Jewett of Summit County, Ohio, was called to see Joel Lenn, 27, a French coal miner, who had suffered a serious injury. While blasting coal in the works of Messrs. Cross & Payne, near this village, the blasting barrel (a 5/8 inch gas pipe four feet in length) … Continue reading At least it got rid of the tapeworm…

A bad use for good wine

This promising headline appeared in an issue of the Philosophical Transactions published in 1755.  ‘Success’ is an interesting choice of word, since all the patients died, some within a matter of hours.  One wonders what ‘failure’ might have looked like. Early medical writers made frequent reference to a condition they called dropsy.  By this they … Continue reading A bad use for good wine

Half man, half snake

Until the late nineteenth century, many people remained convinced that emotional experiences during pregnancy could have major psychological or even physical effects on the unborn child.  An 1839 edition of an American periodical, The Family Magazine, contains an extreme example, a young man called Robert H. Copeland who exhibited himself at freak-shows and county fairs: … Continue reading Half man, half snake

Difficulty getting it down

Here’s a painful tale from The Journal of Foreign Medical Science and Literature, published in 1823: not for children or the squeamish – and likely to make men in particular wince. On March 17th 1822 Thomas Calloway, a London surgeon, was asked to visit a ‘healthy, muscular’ man aged 44: On Saturday night, the 8th … Continue reading Difficulty getting it down