The cheese knife lobotomy

This alarming headline was attached to a letter sent to The Lancet in 1838 by Dr Congreve Selwyn, a family physician in Cheltenham. His brief communication related the story of an unfortunate accident which had taken place in his practice some 17 years earlier: William Bishop, living at Hill Farm, Bosbury, Herefordshire, aged four years … Continue reading The cheese knife lobotomy

The seventy-year-old mother-to-be

Here’s a truly strange case that was reported in the Journal de Médécine de Paris in 1881. It concerns an elderly woman who was believed to have fallen pregnant. Such tales were commonly reported in the early medical literature – there are many to be found in 18th-century journals, for instance – but these examples … Continue reading The seventy-year-old mother-to-be

A receipt for making a rupture

In the 1820s the British physician John Cheyne made a special study of the numerous ways in which soldiers tried to get themselves invalided out of service. Cheyne is best known today as one of the first to identify Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a pattern of disordered breathing which is a useful diagnostic sign in identifying several … Continue reading A receipt for making a rupture

The man whose intestines twinkled like stars

Every so often I read an old medical case that makes me wince and ask myself, “However did they recover from that?” This tale, reported 142 years ago in the Richmond and Louisville Medical Journal, falls squarely into this category. The initial injury was bad enough, but the circumstances of the case presented the surgeon … Continue reading The man whose intestines twinkled like stars

The case of the drunken Dutchman’s guts

On August 28th 1641 the 21-year-old English diarist John Evelyn visited the great university of Leiden in the Netherlands. He was unimpressed, declaring it ‘nothing extraordinary’, but one building took his fancy: Among all the rarities of this place, I was much pleased with a sight of their anatomy-school, theater, and repository adjoining, which is … Continue reading The case of the drunken Dutchman’s guts

If you can’t find a surgeon…

…employ a butcher. That, at least, is the advice implied by this unusual eighteenth-century case:The hamlet of Clogher in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, is a bit of an oddity. Although it has barely 500 residents, it also possesses a cathedral – one of the smallest settlements in the British Isles to do so.  Between 1737 … Continue reading If you can’t find a surgeon…

Hook, line and Liston

In 1844 the great surgeon Robert Liston gave an influential series of lectures at University College London on the technique of surgery. The second lecture in this series, concerning operations on the neck, includes this unusual case: Occasionally you find very curious foreign bodies lodged in the throat. The following case came under my notice … Continue reading Hook, line and Liston