The forgetful sailor

In 1832 a surgeon serving aboard a British Navy vessel in the Mediterranean, David Burnes, sent an unusual case history to The Lancet. Five years later he wrote to the journal again, offering an update to this ‘singular case’. Here’s the complete story: Robert Sims, aged 23, was entered on the sick list of HMS Belvidera, about the … Continue reading The forgetful sailor

An unwelcome visitor

A short news item published in 1843 by the Gazette Médicale de Paris contains the sort of case that would give a hypochondriac sleepless nights. It was submitted by Jean Guyon, an eminent military surgeon who spent much of his career studying tropical diseases, in particular yellow fever and cholera. Another of his interests was … Continue reading An unwelcome visitor

The slugs and the porcupine

According to an old journalistic adage, if a newspaper headline contains a question the correct answer is always ‘no’. For instance, ‘Could x offer a cure for cancer?’, to which the answer is always ‘no’, whether x is ‘green tea’, ‘mushrooms’ or ‘snake oil’. This reliable rule of thumb, sometimes known as Betteridge’s Law, applies in spades … Continue reading The slugs and the porcupine

The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

In 1873 The Medical Times and Register published an unusual case report from one  Joseph G. Richardson, a doctor from Philadelphia: J. B., a farmer, 74 years old, residing near Darby, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, came under my care in the out-patient department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, January 27, 1873. His neck, face, and … Continue reading The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

The man with a snake in his heart

I was fascinated to stumble across this seventeenth-century autopsy report in an old edition of the British Medical Journal.  It was unearthed by Benjamin (later Sir Benjamin) Ward Richardson, one of the great figures of Victorian medicine. His name is less familiar today than that of his friend John Snow, the leading British exponent of … Continue reading The man with a snake in his heart