“Oh, I’ll tell you another time”

In 1811 the novelist Fanny Burney underwent a mastectomy for suspected breast cancer. The operation was a total success: she lived for another 28 years without any recurrence of the tumour. Burney recorded her experience in a searing letter to her sister Esther. It’s a masterpiece of descriptive writing, an account so vivid that every … Continue reading “Oh, I’ll tell you another time”

Finish what you started

In 1847, at a meeting of the Paris Medical Society, Dr Jean-Baptiste Pigné gave a short talk about cancer. Pigné was the nephew of the great French surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren, and had been appointed curator of the pathological museum founded by him. He concluded his lecture by describing an exceptional operation performed more than a … Continue reading Finish what you started

More than common danger

Sir Astley Cooper was the best known, and best paid, surgeon in early nineteenth-century London. He was a great innovator in the field of vascular surgery, devising new methods of treatment for aneurysms and other conditions of the blood vessels. His expertise was both deep and broad: he was an authority on hernias, limb fractures … Continue reading More than common danger

A harrowing incident

In 1873 the Chicago Medical Journal published this article by a Dr Stewart from Muscatine, a small Iowa town on the banks of the Mississippi that would later become famous as the world-leading manufacturer of pearl buttons. The article’s matter-of-fact headline scarcely does justice of the drama to come: Anthony B., a lad aged 17, … Continue reading A harrowing incident

The accidental hysterectomy

In 1840 one Dr Drane, a physician from Louisville in Kentucky, wrote a short communication to the Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery. The editor was astonished, commenting that the case was “unique in the annals of obstetric medicine”. It’s certainly, ahem, special: A woman residing in Oldham county, in this State, was attended by … Continue reading The accidental hysterectomy