Pretty much any substance you care to mention has, at one time or another, been touted as a cure for cancer. The historic medical literature is littered with unsuccessful specifics for the disease. Many of them were deadly poisons such as arsenic or belladonna – indeed, the use of poisons has persisted, in a more sophisticated form, in contemporary chemotherapies.… Read more
There’s a good chance that you’ll be at the sharp end of a hypodermic needle over the next few months – at least, I hope you will. The various Covid-19 vaccines are finally reaching the people who need them most: 1,296,432 doses had been administered in the UK by the first week of January. Assuming the entire population receives … Read more
‘First, do no harm.’
You may be familiar with this aphorism, which in the last hundred years or so has become the unofficial motto of medical ethics. Almost all young doctors will hear the phrase at an early stage of their training – a useful encapsulation of a central tenet of medicine, that the physician (or surgeon) should consider the … Read more
Here’s an intriguing article from the American Medico-Surgical Bulletin of 1895, summarising a paper published in a German journal:
The author reports a successful case of strangulated hernia, in which, after resection of about 3 inches of intestine, he performed lateral intestinal anastomosis.
The Canadian physician Henry Horatio Nelson was born six years after the Battle of Trafalgar, so it does not take much imagination to work out how his parents chose his middle name. Perhaps understandably, he chose to call himself Horace Nelson, a name less likely to cause his patients to smirk.
Although little known today, Horace Nelson was a pioneer … Read more
Here’s a truly strange case that was reported in the Journal de Médécine de Paris in 1881. It concerns an elderly woman who was believed to have fallen pregnant. Such tales were commonly reported in the early medical literature – there are many to be found in 18th-century journals, for instance – but these examples were often supported … Read more
A story of an “Amphibious Infant” has found its way into some of the London papers. The subject is introduced thus:— “Strange results of very early training: a baby that paddles around under water for twenty-five minutes; a … Read more
Do you know who performed the world’s first heart transplant ? The surgeon usually credited with the feat is the South African Christiaan Barnard, who on December 3rd 1967 gave Louis Washkansky, a 54-year-old grocer, a new heart. The fiftieth anniversary of that celebrated operation falls later this year – but Barnard was not, in fact, the first person to … Read more
This was the front page story in The Lancet on July 11th 1835. It’s a glorious case, but I think my favourite thing about it is the inclusion of the word ‘abnormal’ in the headline: can you imagine such an emission of milk ever being ‘normal’? It was reported by a Swiss medic, a Dr Koller:
H.V., 21 years … Read more
One interesting aspect of nineteenth-century medicine is the fact that many clinicians were convinced that every ailment could be traced ultimately to the same cause. Some were sure that most illnesses were triggered by problems with the liver; others that a disordered digestion could manifest in symptoms all over the body. Towards the end of the century, French physicians became … Read more