The winged ones: insects in the stomach

Case of a young woman who discharged insects from her stomachIn 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

Brain of hare and turd of dog

Digging around in an 1851 edition of The Monthly Journal of Medical Science, I stumbled across a long and rather dry article about Roman medicine by a Dr Simpson, professor of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh.  His narrative is enlivened by a list of bizarre remedies favoured by Roman doctors.  He then points out – rather in the … Read more

Wrapped in a dead sheep

contusions of the epigastriumOne of the difficulties of surgery, even today, is keeping the patient’s body temperature at a safe level.  Core temperatures can drop quite dramatically when a large incision has been made, and although it is theoretically possible to keep the patient warm by making the operating theatre hotter, in practice this makes conditions intolerable for the surgeons and other theatre … Read more

A fright for sore eyes

Mode of managing ocular inflammations

Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes.  Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers.  In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the dangers of sunlight in … Read more

Medicated cigarettes: the new panacea

Inhalation of medicine by smoking cigarettesNineteenth-century opinion on the subject of smoking was sharply divided.  On the one hand there were many prominent doctors who condemned the practice as unhealthy, and even suggested that it caused cancers of the mouth; on the other, there were plenty of physicians who believed that smoking eased coughs and other respiratory disorders by promoting the production of mucus.

In … Read more

The port-wine enema

Alcoholic drinks were an important part of the physician’s armoury until surprisingly recently.  In the early years of the twentieth century, brandy (or whiskey, in the US) was still being administered to patients as a stimulant after they had undergone major surgery.  Every tipple you can think of – from weak ale to strong spirits – has been prescribed at … Read more