The stone-swallower

Eighteenth-century authors were fond of giving their books ridiculously long titles – often so lengthy that they weren’t titles at all, but rather pedantic descriptions of each volume’s contents. Today I came across the longest book title I think I’ve ever seen – and it’s a medical book, first published in 1781: Hugh Smythson’s Compleat … Continue reading The stone-swallower

The dentist who made the blind see

One interesting aspect of nineteenth-century medicine is the fact that many clinicians were convinced that every ailment could be traced ultimately to the same cause. Some were sure that most illnesses were triggered by problems with the liver; others that a disordered digestion could manifest in symptoms all over the body.  Towards the end of … Continue reading The dentist who made the blind see

The snuff-eating nose centipede

Here’s an alarming pair of cases reported in the first volume of the Medical Essays and Observations, published in 1764: A woman of a good heal constitution, and about thirty-six years old, began to complain of a fixed pain in the lower and right side of her forehead. The adjective ‘heal’, an archaic form, means … Continue reading The snuff-eating nose centipede

A leech on the eyeball

Bloodletting is an inescapable theme of a medical blog set largely in the nineteenth century. Although venesection (opening a vein) was frequently used, for minor complaints the weapon of choice was the leech, which could extract a small amount of blood relatively painlessly. Doctors varied the numbers of leeches applied according to the severity of … Continue reading A leech on the eyeball

The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

In 1873 The Medical Times and Register published an unusual case report from one  Joseph G. Richardson, a doctor from Philadelphia: J. B., a farmer, 74 years old, residing near Darby, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, came under my care in the out-patient department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, January 27, 1873. His neck, face, and … Continue reading The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

Sleeping with the fishes

One of the overwhelming priorities of medicine in the eighteenth century was the improvement of resuscitation methods. Drowning was a major cause of death, and physicians realised they needed better emergency procedures to treat those who had fallen into rivers, canals and lakes. Medical societies were set up in several European countries to investigate possible … Continue reading Sleeping with the fishes