Richard Elkanah Hoyle was not a famous surgeon. He never invented a new operation, or contributed to a medical journal, or belonged to a learned society. But he was responsible for one of the most unusual tales you’ll ever hear.
In May 1845 a local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Chronicle, reported a mystery:
An intense sensation has been created in … Read more
This exceptional paper appeared in the Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal, a relatively minor publication, in 1888. Thanks to its sensational subject matter it was soon picked up by journals all over the world. The author was a general practitioner who worked mainly in Birmingham, Alabama:
In the spring of 1887 I was called to see Mrs. B., … Read more
This (almost) incredible case report was printed in The Medical and Physical Journal in 1812, but dates from almost forty years earlier, first appearing in the French medical literature.
A galley-slave, a native of Nantes, entered the marine hospital at Brest the 5th of September, 1774. He complained of cough, pains in the stomach, and bowels; for which M. de … Read more
I came across this unusual case in a book published in 1876, A Dozen Cases: Clinical Surgery by William Tod Helmuth, a distinguished homeopathic surgeon. The phrase ‘homeopathic surgeon’ might sound like a contradiction in terms, if all you know of homeopathy is sugar pills and massively diluted tinctures. But in nineteenth-century America, where homeopathy was one of several rival … Read more
Bloodletting is one of the oldest medical treatments of all, employed for centuries in cultures all over the world. It’s also become a sort of lazy shorthand for the ignorance of our ancestors, the prime example of a useless and harmful technique that doctors persisted in using despite no good evidence for its efficacy.
Although it was largely abandoned as … Read more
It’s been a while! I haven’t managed to post on this blog in months, thanks to a work-in-progress, a true-crime book, which has been keeping me occupied for most of the last year. Now, however, I find myself in compulsory quarantine having just moved back to the UK from Canada, and with time on my hands. So here is a … Read more
I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, since I’ve been working hard on a book which will be published later this year. It’s a true-crime thriller about a murder case in nineteenth-century Dublin, which has entailed weeks spent sifting through Irish newspaper archives. I recently stumbled across one medical story in the course of that research which was too … Read more
The unusual case histories posted on this blog often defy easy explanation. Indeed, I have an entire category of posts entitled ‘mysterious illnesses’. But however exotic the symptoms it is usually possible to suggest some arcane diagnosis to explain them.
Not this time.
This case from 1825 has me utterly stumped. It is, by the standards of two hundred years … Read more
The American Michael DeBakey was one of the giants of twentieth-century surgery. His extraordinary career spanned eight decades, beginning in the 1930s and ending only with his death at the age of 99 in 2008. He is best known today as a pioneering cardiac surgeon, but in the early 1950s he and his then colleague Denton Cooley also revolutionised the … Read more
My jaw hit the floor – in a metaphorical, not a literal, sense, although the latter circumstance would itself be worthy of an entry on this blog – when I came across this little story. It concerns a case reported by Paul Broca, a French physician who played a key role in the early development of neuroscience, since he … Read more