The surgeon and the smugglers

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:

Extraordinary occurrence

An intense sensation has been created in Read more

The galley slave and the barrel hoop

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.

Capacity of the human stomach

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

Specific gravity

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

A gallon a day keeps the doctor away

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

The bacon factory eyelid transplant

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 heart surgeon and the Nazis

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