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 … Continue reading Fifty years ahead of his time

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 … Continue reading The boy who choked on his gold

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 … Continue reading The case of the drunken Dutchman’s guts

If you can’t find a surgeon…

…employ a butcher. That, at least, is the advice implied by this unusual eighteenth-century case:The hamlet of Clogher in Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, is a bit of an oddity. Although it has barely 500 residents, it also possesses a cathedral – one of the smallest settlements in the British Isles to do so.  Between 1737 … Continue reading If you can’t find a surgeon…

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

An extraordinary surgical operation

Last week I came across an article which took my breath away. It was published in 1858, in an American journal, the Medical and Surgical Reporter, and it describes an operation of such audacity and skill that I can’t believe it isn’t better known. This is how it was reported: At the request of a … Continue reading An extraordinary surgical operation

Like finding a needle in a pharynx

In November 1828 several English-language journals picked up a case which had appeared in the Revue Medicale, a French medical journal, the previous month. It begins promisingly: A man, aged twenty-five years, was irritating his nostril with a needle… As you do. …when by some accident he suffered it to enter the nostril through which … Continue reading Like finding a needle in a pharynx

A large portion of chin

One night in May 1832 the duty medics at St Thomas’s Hospital in London suddenly had a particularly difficult case to deal with. It was subsequently reported in the London Medical and Surgical Journal: Joseph B. aged 24, a Frenchman, of sanguine temperament, whilst partially inebriated, on the evening of May, in an hotel in Gracechurch Street, … Continue reading A large portion of chin

A chainsaw to the spine

In the early nineteenth century surgery was a primitive affair, generally limited to a few commonly performed operations. Most people know about agonising amputations, or the (possibly even more agonising) operations for bladder stones and mastectomy; others in the surgeon’s repertoire included basic procedures to remove cataracts or to release pressure in the skull. But … Continue reading A chainsaw to the spine