You may have seen this recent story about a man who thought he had lung cancer before learning that his persistent cough had an altogether less sinister cause. Doctors discovered that the shadow on his chest X-rays was caused not by a tumour, but by a toy traffic cone he had inhaled as a child some 40 years earlier.
The … Read more
If you lived in rural Norfolk in the nineteenth century and wanted to get rid of a wart on your hand, there were several options open to you. You might, for instance, steal a piece of beef (it must be stolen, otherwise the cure would not work) and bury it; as the beef decayed, your wart(s) would fade away. Or … Read more
The seventeenth-century French surgeon François Mauriceau was one of the founders of modern obstetrics. Over several decades he studied every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth and the health of newborn babies, attempting to put the discipline on a new theoretically sound and anatomically-informed basis. His masterpiece, published in 1668, is the treatise Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées (‘Diseases of … Read more
In 1871 the Surgeon-General’s office of the US Government published a document identified simply as Circular no 3. The dull bureaucratic title gives little hint of the varied material within: a comprehensive survey of surgical activity in the US Army during the preceding six years. As one London medical journal noted, the book gives some idea of the extraordinary range … Read more
In 1832 a surgeon serving aboard a British Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, David Burnes, sent an unusual case history to The Lancet. Five years later he wrote to the journal again, offering an update to this ‘singular case’. Here’s the complete story:
Robert Sims, aged 23, was entered on the sick list of HMS Belvidera, about the middle … Read more
This case sounds so implausible that you may start thinking it’s a spoof. I assure you it’s not: I came across it in Alfred Poulet’s Treatise on Foreign Bodies in Surgical Practice (1880), but it originally appeared almost a century earlier in a book by the French surgeon François Chopart.
Chopart was a pioneer of urology, the treatment of … Read more
I’m writing this post on the 122nd anniversary of the first attempt at heart surgery, which took place in Norway on September 4th 1895. The surgeon, Axel Cappelen, opened the chest of a man who had been stabbed, and sutured his lacerated heart muscle. The procedure went smoothly, but the man died a few days later from infection … Read more
If you haven’t been watching the BBC2 comedy Quacks, you’re missing a treat. It’s set in the world of mid-Victorian medicine, an era when the discipline was beginning its dramatic metamorphosis into a rigorous science. Anaesthesia had just arrived on the scene, and a younger generation of surgeons and physicians was eager to discard outmoded thinking and replace it … Read more
More strange news from the Philosophical Transactions, the venerable journal of the Royal Society. This brief report was contributed in 1720 by Abraham Vater, a German anatomist who was a particular authority on the digestive tract (the ampulla of Vater, a structure at the meeting of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct, is named after him). It’s quite … Read more