Off the scale

It is not often that an author in a major medical journal thinks it necessary to state that they are not mad. But in 1891 Dr W.J. Galbraith, Professor of Surgery at Omaha Medical College, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported a case so extraordinary that he thought it necessary to offer a disclaimer by … Read more

Ulysse Trélat and an implausible discovery

Ulysse Trélat was a prominent French surgeon of the nineteenth century. He served as surgeon-in-chief to most of the major hospitals of Paris, published important textbooks and received the highest honour the French state can bestow, the Légion d’Honneur. His name still appears today in medical dictionaries as the co-inventor of an operation to treat cleft palate, and for the … Read more

A wonderful accumulation

This notable case report was published in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions in 1852.  The author, John Marshall, was a young surgeon in private practice in London; it is not clear how ‘Mrs B.’ came to be his patient, given that she lived in Oxfordshire.  Marshall later became a well-known anatomist, a Fellow of the Royal Society and professor of surgery at … Read more

The electric centipede

In December 1831 The Lancet reported these strange goings-on in France:

Headache caused by centipede in the sinus

A farmer’s wife, twenty-eight years of age, residing in the neighbourhood of Metz, had for a long time been affected with an unpleasant itching sensation in the nose with coryza…

The OED informs me that coryza comes from the Greek κόρυζα, meaning ‘nasal mucous’. In colloquial English we … Read more

An infinite number of worms

Many medicines prescribed by physicians of the past were chemicals now known to be highly toxic. Mercury, arsenic and antimony were among the harmful substances regularly administered for a variety of conditions. In this case, published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1759, a young boy was apparently cured by another chemical now known to be hazardous to health – but … Read more

Four lambs and two puppies

This strange little tale appeared in various literary and medical journals in 1806. This version is taken from The Medical and Physical Journal, which appears to have been one of the first to publish it. It is a salacious snippet rather than a case report, and some contemporaries read it with scepticism: one leading doctor quoted it in an … Read more