Saliva and crow’s vomit

Discourse on the mode of acting on the human bodyThe University of Pavia in northern Italy is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1361.  It has a distinguished history of experimental scientific research: Alessandro Volta, the pioneer of electrochemistry, was professor there for forty years beginning in 1779.

While Volta was working on his voltaic pile – the first electric battery – his colleagues in the … Read more

Glass half-empty

Glass gobletThe remarkable headline above graced the pages of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in April 1849.  In case you’re wondering, the two injuries are not related: the author just thought he’d put his two most spectacular cases in the same article.

Dr W.S.W Ruschenberger, surgeon to the US Navy, writes:

While recently on a visit to Canton, I Read more

A case for Dr Coffin

Lateral transfixtionIn 1837 a Canadian teenager tripped over while walking back to his parents’ house.  The accident did not hurt much, but it made him strangely famous: journals on both sides of the Atlantic reported the case with astonishment, and the story was reproduced in several anthologies of medical curiosities.  And it really is extraordinary.

The tale was first reported in … Read more

An ‘unnatural propensity’ and its perils

heart onanismUntil the early twentieth century, medicine had little to say about heart disease.  Although the best specialists of the nineteenth century became remarkably adept at distinguishing between different types of congenital defects using little more than the stethoscope and physical symptoms, they remained almost clueless about acquired conditions – and, in particular, what caused them.  This led to several strange … Read more

Lettuce, a Class A drug

Lettuce drugsA post last week referred to Andrew Duncan, founder of the Medical and Philosophical Commentaries, the first regular medical journal published in the United Kingdom.  In 1810 he wrote a paper for a publication slightly less well known for its original medical research, the Memoirs of the Caledonian Horticultural Society.  His subject?  Lettuce. 

Opium, or the inspissated [congealed] … Read more

Aleing all day, and oiling all night

Comments on corpulencyThose who think that morbid obesity is a uniquely modern phenomenon should read William Wadd’s ‘Comments on Corpulency’, published over several issues of the London Medical Gazette in 1828.  In a long essay he considered dozens of cases he had encountered, many of whom would be today under the care of a bariatric surgeon.  Here’s one of them: this encounter … Read more

Stay of execution?

Effects of tight lacingAn angry Dr Tuson from Fitzrovia writes to the London Medical Journal in 1831.  He begins with an apology: 

Though I may incur the displeasure of many of the female part of the community in investigating a subject, the province of which they may consider peculiarly their own, yet on perusing my observations they will perceive that an anxious solicitude Read more