Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Benjamin RushPhysician, chemist, writer and revolutionary: Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a remarkable man in a remarkable age. Arguably the greatest physician America had yet produced, he was an early and tireless advocate for vaccination, an authority on epidemic disease and wrote the first American textbook on mental health. He was also controversial: during a dreadful outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia … Read more

A Victorian hospital Christmas

Christmas day in the London hospitalsAs a seasonal antidote to all the misery and medical disasters usually documented on this blog, here is something genuinely heart-warming. The Victorians were particularly good at Christmas – they invented most of the domestic Christmas traditions we enjoy today, from the meal to the tree.  A story published in the British Medical Journal in December 1869 shows them extending … Read more

Hard to stomach

Hospital reportsIn 1823 The Lancet’s regular summary of goings-on at the London hospitals contained this interesting report of an early public demonstration of the stomach pump.  The experiment documented here took place at Guy’s Hospital:

Friday, Nov. 21. At half past one o’clock the operating theatre was crowded to excess, in consequence of its having been stated on the preceding Read more

The bird and the bees

Miss Lydia BeckerIn August 1868 the British Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting in Norwich.  One of the members invited to present a paper was Lydia Becker, an amateur astronomer and botanist; among her accomplishments she could count a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society and the respect of Charles Darwin, with whom she corresponded.… Read more

Roger ‘two urinals’ Clerk

How quacks were treated in the fourteenth centuryIn 1868 the Corporation of London published a slim volume entitled Memorials of London and London Life in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries.  It contained extracts from the archives of the City of London.  An editor at The Lancet read it, and found an anecdote which remained topical, half a millennium later:

One Roger Clerk professed to be Read more

The black sheep

a black sheepIn the days before the NHS, when physicians charged patients for their services, there was an unspoken agreement that members of the medical profession would waive their fees when the patient was a colleague or a member of their family.  In countries with no national health service this convention persisted for longer: in the late 20th century the American … Read more

Portrait of a quack

quacksIn 1804 The Medical and Physical Journal decided to name and shame some of London’s most notorious quacks.  One of the unscrupulous practitioners exposed to public humiliation was a certain Dr Day:

He was born in  Holland, though of German parents, of the name of Dies, which the Doctor has translated into the English synonym of Day, under which name Read more

Medical qualifications: optional

zeifertHere’s a report of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey from a little over a century ago which truly made me grateful for modern medicine – and in particular for the modern regulation of the profession.  In this case a doctor without any qualifications escaped with a slap on the wrist, despite having killed a patient.

On March 3… Read more