Falling pregnant

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 … Continue reading Falling pregnant

The forgetful sailor

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 … Continue reading The forgetful sailor

He sliced his penis in two

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 … Continue reading He sliced his penis in two

Fifty years ahead of his time

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 … Continue reading Fifty years ahead of his time

Not getting his hands dirty

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 … Continue reading Not getting his hands dirty

A span in length

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 … Continue reading A span in length