A leech on the eyeball

Bloodletting is an inescapable theme of a medical blog set largely in the nineteenth century. Although venesection (opening a vein) was frequently used, for minor complaints the weapon of choice was the leech, which could extract a small amount of blood relatively painlessly. Doctors varied the numbers of leeches applied according to the severity of … Continue reading A leech on the eyeball

The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

In 1873 The Medical Times and Register published an unusual case report from one  Joseph G. Richardson, a doctor from Philadelphia: J. B., a farmer, 74 years old, residing near Darby, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, came under my care in the out-patient department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, January 27, 1873. His neck, face, and … Continue reading The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

A nineteenth-century hacking scandal

In November 1870 a London surgeon took the unusual step of writing anonymously to The Times to complain about his son’s headmaster. The son in question was a boy at Rugby School, and the letter was headlined ‘Rugby and its Football’: Sir,–– I use the expression because to my mind the game as it is … Continue reading A nineteenth-century hacking scandal

The perils of being a writer

Having spent most of the last year sitting in seclusion writing and editing my first book, I was amused to come across an essay by the eighteenth-century Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot.  Tissot is perhaps best known today for his work L’Onanisme, the first scholarly examination of masturbation (executive summary: he was not a fan).  In … Continue reading The perils of being a writer

Conceived by a bullet

There are many cases of supposed virgin births in the early medical literature, but few are as wonderfully unlikely as this one published in The Lancet in early 1875:  The following rich gynaecological contribution is reported in the columns of the American Medical Weekly for Nov. 7th, 1874, by L. G. Capers, M.D., Vicksburg, Mississippi. … Continue reading Conceived by a bullet

A head of wheat in the bladder

In December 1871 Dr B. B. Leonard, a general practitioner from West Liberty, Ohio, was summoned to examine ‘J.J.’, a 41-year-old farm worker from a neighbouring village. This is what he subsequently reported to the Cincinnati Lancet and Observer: On the 3rd of July, Mr. J was binding wheat in the field, and when about … Continue reading A head of wheat in the bladder