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 … Continue reading An extraordinary quantity of worms

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: 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 … Continue reading Revealed: the cure for hiccups

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 … Continue reading The trumpeter and the walking stick

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 … Continue reading Asleep while she gave birth

The spermatorrhoea alarm

In 1843 the Provincial Medical Journal published a landmark paper by Dr W.H. Ranking from Suffolk. It was a ‘landmark’ in that it was the first full-length publication in English to discuss a new disease that was soon to become the scourge of the male population: spermatorrhoea.  Or, in plain English, involuntary ejaculation. The person … Continue reading The spermatorrhoea alarm

In hospital for 34 years

In December 1886 the Cincinnati Enquirer published an exclusive from its New York correspondent. He had uncovered an amazing story at one of the city’s hospitals – the death of its longest-standing patient. She’d been an inmate there for three decades, but that wasn’t even the most interesting part of the tale: When Nellie Steele … Continue reading In hospital for 34 years

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