Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Physician, 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 … Continue reading Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Dragging his bowels after him

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 … Continue reading Dragging his bowels after him

A medical duel

Medical disputes could be dangerous affairs in the old days. Two hundred years ago two physicians settled their differences not in the pages of the medical journals, but by fighting a duel. This arresting story appeared in a January 1828 edition of The London Medical Gazette: A Duel was fought last Saturday about three o’clock in the afternoon, between Dr. … Continue reading A medical duel

Fruit, feathers and hair

In 1838 a French specialist in bladder stones, Professor Civiale, wrote a remarkable paper for the Gazette des Hôpitaux in which he recorded the extraordinary variety of objects which he had been asked to remove from the urinary systems of his patients. He relates a collection of one hundred and sixty-six cases of foreign bodies … Continue reading Fruit, feathers and hair

Suffocated by a fish

Here’s a ‘news in brief’ item which appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1863, under this headline:A warder of the Bagne at Toulon, has just met his death in the following manner: he was amusing himself, while off duty, with fishing in the dock, when, having caught a fish about seven inches long and … Continue reading Suffocated by a fish

Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Have 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 … Continue reading Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

A medical old wives’ tale

This 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 … Continue reading A medical old wives’ tale

Killed by a cough

In 1734 James Jamieson, a surgeon from Thurso in the Scottish borders reported this case in the Medical Essays and Observations.  It began with a common-or-garden accident: Some Slates falling from the Roof of a House four Storeys high, upon the Head of a Girl about thirteen Years of Age, broke and shattered her Cranium … Continue reading Killed by a cough