He swallowed a serpent

A curious phenomenon common to medical history and folklore is that of the bosom serpent – stories of snakes, frogs, lizards and other animals living inside the human stomach or intestines. According to the physician and medical historian Jan Bondeson, “no fewer than 68 case reports of live reptiles or amphibians inside the gastrointestinal tract” appeared in the professional literature … Read more

The fiery finger

Can the human body spontaneously catch fire?  For many years people believed that it could. Spontaneous human combustion was a topic that fascinated medics and the general public for many years. In the early nineteenth century it was widely believed to be a genuine phenomenon, caused by some quirk of human physiology (I’ve previously written about one celebrated case from … Read more

The stomach snail

William Rhind, a Scottish surgeon of the nineteenth century, had impressively broad interests. He was a botanist of some eminence, publishing a 700-page textbook on the subject which remained in print for over forty years. He was also an expert in geology – although his firm view that the Earth was only around 4000 years old, consistent with the Bible, … Read more

An extraordinary quantity of worms

In 1801 a contingent of 20,000 soldiers commanded by General Charles Leclerc, the  brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte, set sail for the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Their mission was to recapture the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, now under the control of the former slave Toussaint Louverture.  Known as the Saint-Domingue expedition, the two-year campaign was a disaster for all … Read more

Revealed: the cure for hiccups

A striking report* was published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1845 by Dr George Dexter, a physician from New York:singular case of hiccough caused by masturbation

Some time since, a singular case of hiccough was placed under my treatment. Its origin evidently was from long-continued masturbation.

Dr Dexter appears remarkably confident in this assertion. On what grounds, you might reasonably ask – with … Read more

The trumpeter and the walking stick

In is not unheard of for a soldier to be killed as the result of a swordfight. But it is not often that the circumstances are quite as unusual as those of this case, published in The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science in 1851 – with a patient who looked so little injured that the regimental medical officer assumed … Read more