Sober up the nineteenth-century way

As Christmas celebrations fade away and battered livers dubiously await the assault of New Year’s Eve, now is a good time to consider one of medicine’s oldest questions: how to counteract the effects of alcohol. Nineteenth-century medical writers seem to have been more concerned with prevention than cure: journal articles say little about curing a … Continue reading Sober up the nineteenth-century way

A Victorian hospital Christmas

As a seasonal antidote to all the misery and medical disasters usually documented on this blog, here is something genuinely heart-warming. The Victorians were particularly good at Christmas – they invented most of the domestic Christmas traditions we enjoy today, from the meal to the tree.  A story published in the British Medical Journal in … Continue reading A Victorian hospital Christmas

The hidden dangers of a Victorian Christmas

In the last (I promise) of my trilogy of Christmas disasters, here is a warning of the dangers of festive decorations. This Christmas tree-related incident from 1849 was documented in The Household Narrative, the almanac published by Charles Dickens between 1850 and 1855.  In the section tastefully entitled ‘Accident and Disaster’, Dickens reports the following … Continue reading The hidden dangers of a Victorian Christmas

The perils of the Christmas pudding

Continuing this blog’s recent Christmas theme, here’s a short article originally printed in the Medical Adviser in 1825.  It was at about this time that one of the staples of the modern Christmas dinner – the Christmas pudding – began to be a regular feature of festive meals. More usually referred to as a plum … Continue reading The perils of the Christmas pudding

Death by Christmas dinner

If you haven’t yet bought everything for your Christmas dinner, this tale from almost 200 years ago may cause you to remove a few items from your shopping list.  Published in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions in 1814 by Thomas Chevalier, a distinguished surgeon and polymath also notable for his English translation of Pascal’s Pensées, it concerns … Continue reading Death by Christmas dinner

A beetle in the bladder

Insects and spiders colonising the human body were a regular feature of medical journal articles in the 19th century.  For instance, there’s the woman with spiders in her eyes, and the remarkable case of the boy who appeared to have a millipede colony in his stomach. This report involving a beetle appeared in the American Journal … Continue reading A beetle in the bladder

There was an old woman who swallowed a fork…

In 1868 the Medical and Surgical Reporter contained a report of an unusual case received from the physicians of the insane asylum at Zutphen, a town in the Netherlands. The patient was a woman 64 years old, affected with lypemania… Lypemania is an archaic term, meaning an excessive fondness for melancholy. Today a patient suffering … Continue reading There was an old woman who swallowed a fork…

Somewhat silly in his manner

Fans of nominative determination – the idea that a person’s name can have a bearing on their choice of career – may enjoy this little tale from the Virginia Medical Journal, reported in 1857.  It concerns a urologist from Guy’s Hospital, one Mr Cock.  Stop giggling at the back: Mr. Cock, at Guy’s, has recently … Continue reading Somewhat silly in his manner

All hail the strawberry

A number of fruits and vegetables which are part of our regular diet were more prized in past centuries for their medicinal qualities. The strawberry is one of the gastronomic highlights of the British summer, but until the early 19th century the fruit was just as much cherished for its varied therapeutic uses. One Anglo-Saxon medical text contains … Continue reading All hail the strawberry