The eye-brush

Scarification is a medical practice which was popular until the early nineteenth century and which thankfully has now been consigned to the history books (and blogs).  In concept similar to – but less dramatic than – bleeding, it entailed using a rough implement or blade to make abrasions on the surface of the body. In … Continue reading The eye-brush

The do-it-yourself hernia operation

In the nineteenth century medical attention was a luxury which had to be paid for, and which not all could afford.  What, then, would you do if you were living in abject poverty and developed a serious illness?  Many people put their faith in traditional remedies or prayer; a few took matters into their own … Continue reading The do-it-yourself hernia operation

Glass half-empty

The remarkable headline above graced the pages of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in April 1849.  In case you’re wondering, the two injuries are not related: the author just thought he’d put his two most spectacular cases in the same article. Dr W.S.W Ruschenberger, surgeon to the US Navy, writes: While recently on … Continue reading Glass half-empty

Almost to the ground

An article from an 1831 edition of the London Medical Gazette begins unpromisingly:  Enlargement of the testes, scrotal tumors, and hydrocele, are common diseases to which the inhabitants of Tahiti, and other islands in the Southern Pacific, are subject; nor are they confined to the natives alone, as Europeans, after a long residence, are equally liable to … Continue reading Almost to the ground

The self-inflicted lithotomy

The output of the French baroque composer Marin Marais contains an oddity: a musical depiction of a surgical operation.  A piece from the fifth book of his Pieces de Viole is entitled Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (Portrait of an Abdominal Operation – you can listen to it here), and is an attempt … Continue reading The self-inflicted lithotomy

Such is the fortitude of females

Rhinoplasty is one of the oldest surgical operations, known to have been practised by the Indian surgeon Sushruta in the 1st millennium BC, and with great sophistication in the 17th century by the Italian physician Gaspare Tagliacozzi, who created new noses from the muscles of the upper arm. This case reported in the 1830s in … Continue reading Such is the fortitude of females

The self-performed caesarian

A jaw-dropping case was reported in The New York Medical and Physical Journal in 1823, one in which a patient conducted an operation on herself.  The best-known example of self-operation occurred in 1961, when a Soviet surgeon working on an Antarctic base was forced to take out his own infected appendix; this much earlier case … Continue reading The self-performed caesarian

A fright for sore eyes

Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes.  Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers.  In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the … Continue reading A fright for sore eyes