Fingers crossed

A short but – to me – fascinating article from the Medico-Chirurgical Review. Surgeons are now quite adept at reattaching fingers, toes or even entire hands after cases of accidental amputation, assuming the separated part has been carefully preserved: celebrated cases include Arsenio Matias, who had both hands reattached after an industrial accident, and Everett Knowles, … Continue reading Fingers crossed

All’s well that ends well

A grisly tale, but one with a happy ending: John Nedham wrote to the Philosophical Transactions in 1756 with news of a road traffic accident and its consequences: On the 3d of January 1755, Mr. N. was called to the son of Lancelot Watts (a day-labourer, living at Brunsted) a servant boy to Mr. Pile, a farmer at Westwick, near North-Walsham, Norfolk, aged 13 years. He was overturned … Continue reading All’s well that ends well

It makes you go blind, you know

Nineteenth-century medical journals were much preoccupied with the sin of self-harm.  One authority on mental illnesses even suggested that masturbation was the leading cause of insanity in asylum patients.  An edition of the Canada Medical Journal published in 1870 contains a typical report: Case 1st: J.C., aged 18. Was called to see him in the fall … Continue reading It makes you go blind, you know

Mummies and rhubarb

I recently wrote about the horrifying animal remedies which one could buy in a London apothecary’s shop in the seventeenth century.  These were far from being the most disgusting products on sale in these emporia.  Apothecaries also traded in various human substances.  There’s a useful catalogue in Robert James’s 1747 edition of the London Pharmacopoeia: Homo, Man, … Continue reading Mummies and rhubarb

The dreadful mortification

A case published in The Medical Museum of 1781 is a reminder of a world we have gratefully left behind; one in which infection could rapidly maim or kill entire families, while doctors looked on helplessly.  Life could be, in Thomas Hobbes’s phrase, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.  Hobbes was writing about war, but … Continue reading The dreadful mortification

The winged ones: insects in the stomach

In 1824 the Transactions of the Association of Fellows and Licentiates of the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland reported an extraordinary case which would continue to be quoted in the medical literature for many decades.  The case was reported in a paper whose lengthy title was abbreviated to the rather snappier ‘Dr … Continue reading The winged ones: insects in the stomach

Leeches: for external and internal use

If there’s one thing that everybody knows about early medicine, it’s the fact that doctors loved to use leeches.  Attaching a leech, or even dozens of them, to remove a small amount of blood from a diseased part of the body was a favourite remedy for the best part of 2000 years – and was … Continue reading Leeches: for external and internal use