‘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.
Strangulated hernia is a condition in which a loop of the bowel protrudes through a hole in … Read more
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
It is June 1873, and some very odd tidings are published in the latest edition of the Medical Notes and Queries:
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
In September 1856 a physician called J. Gotham wrote to an American journal, the Medical and Surgical Reporter, with news of an exciting new breakthrough: a tapeworm trap.
As it is my desire to keep you advised of all the improvements in medical and surgical practice which this prolific age is ushering into being, it is my happy privilege … Read more
In 1875 a physician from New York, Samuel Ward Francis, published a book called Curious Facts, Concerning Man and Nature. I say ‘book’, but it’s more of a pamphlet, a collection of disparate essays running to just 20 pages; this was the second volume in a series. Some of his articles express deep scepticism about Darwin’s theory of evolution, … Read more