A peculiar case was reported to readers of The Lancet in 1856 by Dr Jonathan Green, the proprietor of a London business offering therapeutic sulphur baths. One day he encountered a mysterious patient who would not give her name:
She came to my establishment, as it were, determined not to be recognised, wrapped up in a shawl, veil, &c., and … Read more
In 1849 Mrs Charlotte Winslow of Bangor in Maine invented a medicinal product for children which was as successful in its day as Calpol is now. Any comparison must, however, end there.
‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’ was marketed as an effective analgesic, to be given to teething infants and older children with indigestion. A contemporary advertisement declared that ‘it is … Read more
I imagine that most doctors have had to treat at least one patient who has been unlucky or stupid enough to end up with a foreign body lodged in one of their orifices. Early journals are full of such cases, from pieces of metal swallowed by mistake to insects which took up lodgings in a patient’s ear.
In 1840 the … Read more
A short but – to me – fascinating article from the Medico-Chirurgical Review. Surgeons are now quite adept at reattaching fingers, toes or even entire hands after cases of accidental amputation, assuming the separated part has been carefully preserved: celebrated cases include Arsenio Matias, who had both hands reattached after an industrial accident, and Everett Knowles, the … Read more
A grisly tale, but one with a happy ending: John Nedham wrote to the Philosophical Transactions in 1756 with news of a road traffic accident and its consequences:
On the 3d of January 1755, Mr. N. was called to the son of Lancelot Watts (a day-labourer, living at Brunsted) a servant boy to Mr. Pile, a farmer at Westwick, near … Read more
Nineteenth-century medical journals were much preoccupied with the sin of self-harm. One authority on mental illnesses even suggested that masturbation was the leading cause of insanity in asylum patients. An edition of the Canada Medical Journal published in 1870 contains a typical report:
Case 1st: J.C., aged 18. Was called to see him in the fall of 1868 … Read more
I recently wrote about the horrifying animal remedies which one could buy in a London apothecary’s shop in the seventeenth century. These were far from being the most disgusting products on sale in these emporia. Apothecaries also traded in various human substances. There’s a useful catalogue in Robert James’s 1747 edition of the London Pharmacopoeia:
Homo, Man, is not only … Read more
In the 1820s a young Canadian, Alexis St Martin, was shot in the stomach by a musket-ball. He recovered from the injury, but the wound never healed. His doctors discovered that this opening (known clinically as a fistula) communicated directly with his stomach. In 1827 he had put up with this external opening to his gut for two years, and … Read more
A case published in The Medical Museum of 1781 is a reminder of a world we have gratefully left behind; one in which infection could rapidly maim or kill entire families, while doctors looked on helplessly. Life could be, in Thomas Hobbes’s phrase, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Hobbes was writing about war, but disease was as formidable an … Read more
In 1824 the Transactions of the Association of Fellows and Licentiates of the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland reported an extraordinary case which would continue to be quoted in the medical literature for many decades. The case was reported in a paper whose lengthy title was abbreviated to the rather snappier ‘Dr Pickells’ case of insects in … Read more