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
At the 1887 Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association a surgeon from Sunderland, James Murphy, walked on stage brandishing a testicle. It was an arresting entrance, but no gimmick: he had a highly unusual story to tell. It concerned a patient who (for reasons which were not entirely clear) had decided to cut himself open rather than leave the … Read more
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 decade earlier. It was subsequently … Read more
This blog has previously included a few cases in which a patient performed surgery on their own body. One of my favourites is the story of Colonel Martin, who found an ingenious way to reduce the size of a bladder stone, inserting a file up his own urethra to scrape it into submission.
That takes some beating, but in … Read more
In 1846 John Kyle, a surgeon from the Ohio village of Cedarville, submitted the following case report to The Western Lancet. The headline gives some indication of the unusual nature of the circumstances:
In the spring of 1846 I was called to see — Moore, a boy aged 2 years. He had been a very strong, healthy and fleshy … Read more
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
You’ve heard of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut; but what about a drill (or rather two drills) to crack a cherry stone?
That is exactly what took place at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris in 1833. The surgeon responsible was the great Guillaume Dupuytren, and his unusual case was reported in the Bulletin General de Therapeutique a … Read more
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, while standing beside a … Read more
This short article appeared in a Norfolk local newspaper, the Norwich Gazette, on June 7th 1746:
On Sunday last was cut for the stone by Mr. John Harmer, John Howse, gardener, from Porland, aged 49, from whom he extracted a stone of a prodigious magnitude, measuring 12 inches one way and 8 the other, and weighed upwards of … Read more
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 a midwife in her … Read more