Brain of hare and turd of dog

Digging around in an 1851 edition of The Monthly Journal of Medical Science, I stumbled across a long and rather dry article about Roman medicine by a Dr Simpson, professor of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh.  His narrative is enlivened by a list of bizarre remedies favoured by Roman doctors.  He then points out … Continue reading Brain of hare and turd of dog

Wrapped in a dead sheep

One of the difficulties of surgery, even today, is keeping the patient’s body temperature at a safe level.  Core temperatures can drop quite dramatically when a large incision has been made, and although it is theoretically possible to keep the patient warm by making the operating theatre hotter, in practice this makes conditions intolerable for the … Continue reading Wrapped in a dead sheep

A fright for sore eyes

Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes.  Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers.  In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the … Continue reading A fright for sore eyes

The original Lead Belly

A weighty matter was reported in the Maryland and Virginia Medical Journal in 1860: One of the most extraordinary operations in the annals of surgery has been performed recently in the extreme West, and deserves to be recorded on account of its boldness, successful result, and for the judicious method of procedure adopted by the … Continue reading The original Lead Belly

Medicated cigarettes: the new panacea

Nineteenth-century opinion on the subject of smoking was sharply divided.  On the one hand there were many prominent doctors who condemned the practice as unhealthy, and even suggested that it caused cancers of the mouth; on the other, there were plenty of physicians who believed that smoking eased coughs and other respiratory disorders by promoting the … Continue reading Medicated cigarettes: the new panacea

The port-wine enema

Alcoholic drinks were an important part of the physician’s armoury until surprisingly recently.  In the early years of the twentieth century, brandy (or whiskey, in the US) was still being administered to patients as a stimulant after they had undergone major surgery.  Every tipple you can think of – from weak ale to strong spirits … Continue reading The port-wine enema

The human pincushion

This extraordinary tale appeared in The Medico-Chirurgical Review in 1825: Rachel Hertz had lived in the enjoyment of good health up to her fourteenth year; she was then of a fair complexion, and rather of the sanguineous temperament. In August 1807, she was seized with a violent attack of cholic, which induced her to apply to … Continue reading The human pincushion

Cycling will give you heart disease

March 1895, and in the pages of The Lancet, Dr George Herschell is worried.  Very worried. Cycling, rationally pursued, is one of the most health-giving forms of amusement; but when indulged in to excess, or under improper conditions, one of the most pernicious. I have been led to choose this subject for my paper from … Continue reading Cycling will give you heart disease

Wine, the great healer

Tetanus is a bacterial infection usually contracted through a skin wound – in the days before a vaccine was widely available, cases were fairly common and could follow something as trivial as pricking a finger on a thorn. Before the twentieth century physicians had few therapeutic options.  But in 1798 a doctor from New York found … Continue reading Wine, the great healer