A triumph of surgery

In June 1898, British newspapers reported an exciting medical story under the headline ‘Triumph in Surgery’. Their source was a case history published in that week’s edition of The Lancet. The author, Dr William Brown of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was not a well-known figure; but for a few days, at least, he enjoyed a reputation as a pioneering surgeon.… Read more

Bruit force

Committee reports aren’t exactly famed for their entertainment value. But while leafing through the 1850 volume of the Transactions of the American Medical Association I found one that contained an unexpected gem:

Report of the standing committee on surgery

Buried deep within this lengthy document is a section about aneurysms – a disorder of the blood vessels in which a localised weakness causes the vessel to bulge … Read more

A watch spring, a bean and a clove of garlic

An 1868 issue of a French journal, the Bulletin général de thérapeutique médicale et chirurgical, contains this case report contributed by Paul Pamard, chief of surgery at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Avignon. Pamard was unusual among surgeons in combining his medical practice with a successful political career – and at the time of this case he was serving … Read more

The first caesarean in Ireland

Caesarean section is now the most commonly performed major operation in many parts of the world. A study published in The Lancet a few months ago estimated that around 30 million caesareans take place worldwide every year; in the UK over a quarter of babies are now born by caesarean, some 175,000 per year.

References to the operation go back … Read more

Odds bodkins

This fascinating case report was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1701, contributed by a distinguished Dublin physician, Thomas Molyneux. It is notable both for the unusual nature of the injury, and for the remarkably sophisticated surgery that followed.

Dorcas Blake, a full-bodied sanguine maid, of about twenty years old…

Ms Blake was ‘sanguine’ in a particular medical sense. Since … Read more

“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 agonising touch of the … Read more