The ‘first’ heart transplant

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 … Continue reading The ‘first’ heart transplant

The dentist who made the blind see

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 … Continue reading The dentist who made the blind see

Snake poo salesman

In 1862 an Edinburgh-trained physician, Dr James Hastings, published a slim volume about the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases of the lung. It advocates the use of substances which much of the profession would regard as unorthodox, as he acknowledges in his preface: It has been suggested that the peculiar character of these agents … Continue reading Snake poo salesman

The glow-in-the-dark Easter feast

An essay by Dr Robert Graves of Dublin, published in The London Medical and Surgical Journal in 1835, contains this seasonal gem: When three Roman youths, residing at Padua, had bought a lamb, and had eaten part of it on Easter day, 1562, several pieces of the remainder kept till the day following, shone like so many candles, when … Continue reading The glow-in-the-dark Easter feast

Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Have you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from … Continue reading Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)