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 and amputations, and many other … Read more

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:

wound of the liver

Anthony B., a lad aged 17, while standing beside a Read more

The accidental hysterectomy

Forcible removal of the uterusIn 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 a midwife in her Read more

Fifty years ahead of his time

I’m writing this post on the 122nd anniversary of the first attempt at heart surgery, which took place in Norway on September 4th 1895. The surgeon, Axel Cappelen, opened the chest of a man who had been stabbed, and sutured his lacerated heart muscle. The procedure went smoothly, but the man died a few days later from infection … Read more

The boy who choked on his gold

I came across this interesting story in the Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Surgery at Paris, a collection of cases published in English in 1750. Until I looked into it more thoroughly I didn’t realise that this is not just a curiosity but a genuinely pioneering operation. It was documented in a treatise published in 1620 by the … Read more

The case of the drunken Dutchman’s guts

On August 28th 1641 the 21-year-old English diarist John Evelyn visited the great university of Leiden in the Netherlands. He was unimpressed, declaring it ‘nothing extraordinary’, but one building took his fancy:

Among all the rarities of this place, I was much pleased with a sight of their anatomy-school, theater, and repository adjoining, which is well furnished with natural Read more

The ‘first’ heart transplant

the art of medicine james hardyDo 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