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

The original Lead Belly

A weighty matter was reported in the Maryland and Virginia Medical Journal in 1860: One of the most extraordinary operations in the annals of surgery has been performed recently in the extreme West, and deserves to be recorded on account of its boldness, successful result, and for the judicious method of procedure adopted by the … Continue reading The original Lead Belly

The port-wine enema

Alcoholic drinks were an important part of the physician’s armoury until surprisingly recently.  In the early years of the twentieth century, brandy (or whiskey, in the US) was still being administered to patients as a stimulant after they had undergone major surgery.  Every tipple you can think of – from weak ale to strong spirits … Continue reading The port-wine enema

Anaesthesia for lions (and bears)

The Canada Medical Journal for 1870 has news from the Raj: We mentioned the other day the severe injury sustained by one of the young lions at the park from a mauling of its tail by one of the tigers in the adjoining compartment. At first there was reason to believe that no dangerous results would follow, but … Continue reading Anaesthesia for lions (and bears)

A painful way to ‘cure’ a stammer

On April 1st 1841 Thomas Young, a labourer at a forge, walked into the Metropolitan Free Hospital in London and asked to be cured of his stutter.  Now aged 21, he had been unable to articulate clearly since early childhood.  Dr Bennet Lucas, who examined him, noted that when he attempts to pronounce any word, … Continue reading A painful way to ‘cure’ a stammer

The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

Until fairly recently, tonsillectomy was quite a common procedure – and for many children their first experience of surgery.  Because it’s a straightforward operation, doctors would often recommend that children had their tonsils out even if they had had only a few minor bouts of tonsillitis.  It was even used as a precautionary measure: many … Continue reading The twelve-hour tonsillectomy