Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Irritable patientsHave you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from the pain.

Most difficult to … Read more

The man with the rubber jaw

dental operationsMaxillofacial surgeons are some of the most ridiculously overqualified people on the planet. In the UK it is compulsory for them to hold degrees in both medicine and dentistry, and they can only practise after well over a decade of training. This enviable expertise equips them to undertake a wide range of procedures on the face, jaws and neck. Since … Read more

Bleeding you well

bleeding of the eyesMore from Lorenz Heister’s surgical textbook Chirurgie, published in 1718, on which I have written before. The practice of bloodletting, also known as phlebotomy, was a staple treatment for millennia and still had influential advocates at the end of the nineteenth century.  Most people will be aware that doctors used to bleed their patients, but fewer will be … Read more

The eye-brush

scarifying

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 theory it allowed the evacuation … Read more

The do-it-yourself hernia operation

Case of strangulated herniaIn 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 hands.

Here’s a tale from … Read more

Glass half-empty

Glass gobletThe 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 a visit to Canton, I Read more

Almost to the ground

scrotumAn 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 those affections.

Although Read more

A fatal nose job

This dramatic headline from an early edition of The Lancet caught my eye:rhino

It’s a great illustration of the changing nature of surgical risk.  If today a patient died after having a nose job, it would probably be on the front page of the newspapers; death is not an expected complication of a nose reconstruction.  But 1827 was a very … Read more