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

Evacuated with a spoon

In 1836 a doctor from rural Ireland, J.L. McCarthy, encountered a highly unusual case which he then reported to The Lancet.  The journal deemed it worthy of publication, although it is unlikely that many of its readers would ever need to know how to treat a patient suffering from this particular complaint: On Thursday, the … Continue reading Evacuated with a spoon

The girl whose sweat turned black

Here’s a landmark case from the Philosophical Transactions, reported by the Plymouth surgeon James Yonge in 1709: A girl 16 years old, a daughter of Elizabeth Worth of this town, had about the end of last April a few hot pimples rise on her cheeks, which bleeding and a purge or two cur’d. She continued … Continue reading The girl whose sweat turned black

Pregnant with a toothbrush

In 1874 The Lancet printed this cautionary tale by Thomas Whiteside Hime, who had discovered the hard way that things aren’t always what they seem. He began his article by reminding his colleagues of the ‘great importance of carefulness in diagnosing’ – particularly where a supposed pregnancy is concerned:  Early in July last, M. G., … Continue reading Pregnant with a toothbrush

The woman who peed through her nose

This is the most extraordinary and perplexing case of all the many I’ve sifted through while finding material for this blog. It was printed in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences in 1827, and written by a Dr Salmon A. Arnold from Providence, Rhode Island.  Dr Arnold acknowledges in a footnote that a shorter … Continue reading The woman who peed through her nose

The woman who vomited pins

In 1873 The Lancet reported this case from Belford Hospital, an institution which had been founded eight years earlier, and the first to serve the largely rural population around Fort William in Scotland. This was probably the strangest case anybody concerned had dealt with: Catherine M, aged twenty, a nurse-maid, was admitted on August 30th, … Continue reading The woman who vomited pins

On flatulence and Darwin

In 1867 The Medical Press and Circular published a series of articles by the physician Dr John Chapman on a subject in which he was a world authority: flatulence. To be fair to Dr Chapman, he was also an influential publisher and an expert in psychology specialising in ‘neurotics’ – those we would now describe as … Continue reading On flatulence and Darwin

The mysterious bullet in the heart

In 1852 The Monthly Journal of Medical Science published a report from Burma, where British forces had just begun to fight the Second Anglo-Burmese War.  They landed on April 12th and captured the city of Rangoon shortly afterwards, setting up a field hospital in a priest’s house requisitioned for the purpose. Six surgeons travelled with … Continue reading The mysterious bullet in the heart