Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Benjamin RushPhysician, chemist, writer and revolutionary: Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a remarkable man in a remarkable age. Arguably the greatest physician America had yet produced, he was an early and tireless advocate for vaccination, an authority on epidemic disease and wrote the first American textbook on mental health. He was also controversial: during a dreadful outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia … Read more

Dragging his bowels after him

A case in surgery

Medics and their journals have always loved a curiosity, however long ago it occurred. This case was reported in the Medical and Surgical Journal in 1871, more than a century after the ghastly events it relates had taken place:

John Stetson, aged thirty-eight, farmer, also accustomed to slaughter cattle, July 19, 1768, in a paroxysm of insanity secreted himself in Read more

Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Irritable patientsHave you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from the pain.

Most difficult to … Read more

A medical old wives’ tale

hypochondriasisThis story, attributed to the great American physician Benjamin Rush and repeated in a medical journal in 1839, is almost certainly apocryphal – but it has a good punchline. 

We are apt to believe a merry companion the happiest fellow in the world, and envy him, perhaps, his light heart and airy spirits; but such men have hours of melancholy, Read more