The champagne cure

Pyaemia is a form of septicaemia (blood poisoning) in which a bacterial infection spreads from an abscess and becomes systemic. The disease is characterised by abscesses all over the body, and in the days before antibiotics it was generally fatal.  The only hope was to open the abscesses with the scalpel and drain them, removing the pus in which the … Read more

The monk with a perfume bottle stuck up his bottom

Today’s dose of medical mishap is excerpted from an influential textbook published in 1837 by George Bushe, a surgeon who died at the age of 39 and about whom little is known. Born and trained in Ireland, he emigrated to the US in his twenties and became a lecturer at Rutgers Medical School in New York. When the institution was … Read more

The ‘first’ heart transplant

the art of medicine james hardyDo you know who performed the world’s first heart transplant ? The surgeon usually credited with the feat is the South African Christiaan Barnard, who on December 3rd 1967 gave Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer, a new heart. The fiftieth anniversary of that celebrated operation falls later this year – but Barnard was not, in fact, the first person to … Read more

An abominable, disgusting habit

A course of lectures on painThere are plenty of common myths about Victorian social mores, but anything you have read about their disapproval of onanism (masturbation) is likely to be true. Nineteenth-century medics were apparently united in their condemnation of the practice, which was believed to cause not just blindness, but all manner of serious physical ailments – many of them potentially fatal. One extraordinary … Read more