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

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