The heart surgeon and the Nazis

The American Michael DeBakey was one of the giants of twentieth-century surgery. His extraordinary career spanned eight decades, beginning in the 1930s and ending only with his death at the age of 99 in 2008. He is best known today as a pioneering cardiac surgeon, but in the early 1950s he and his then colleague Denton Cooley also revolutionised the … Read more

Asleep while she gave birth

Things have been rather quiet on this blog in recent weeks, so apologies if you’ve been missing your regular fix of wince-inducing medical history. I’ve been busy working on a book which will be published in a few months’ time.  The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth (and other curiosities from the history of medicine) brings together around 70 of the … Read more

Not getting his hands dirty

If you haven’t been watching the BBC2 comedy Quacks, you’re missing a treat. It’s set in the world of mid-Victorian medicine, an era when the discipline was beginning its dramatic metamorphosis into a rigorous science. Anaesthesia had just arrived on the scene, and a younger generation of surgeons and physicians was eager to discard outmoded thinking and replace it … Read more

A receipt for making a rupture

Feigned diseases of soldiersIn the 1820s the British physician John Cheyne made a special study of the numerous ways in which soldiers tried to get themselves invalided out of service. Cheyne is best known today as one of the first to identify Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a pattern of disordered breathing which is a useful diagnostic sign in identifying several conditions. He moved to … Read more

A festive night in a Victorian emergency department

Sacrifice to BacchusChristmas is always a difficult time of year for practitioners of emergency medicine. In the UK, accident and emergency departments brace themselves for a flood of injuries caused by alcohol; most years there will be at least one newspaper article about drinking culture in the UK and how it is placing intolerable strain on the health service.

It’s always tempting … Read more