An unwelcome visitor

leech found in the vaginaA 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 the leech – not … Read more

The slugs and the porcupine

According to an old journalistic adage, if a newspaper headline contains a question the correct answer is always ‘no’. For instance, ‘Could x offer a cure for cancer?’, to which the answer is always ‘no’, whether x is ‘green tea’, ‘mushrooms’ or ‘snake oil’.

This reliable rule of thumb, sometimes known as Betteridge’s Law, applies in spades to the … Read more

A dubious paper

In 1813 the editor of The Medical and Physical Journal, Samuel Fothergill, accepted for publication a paper by John Spence, a Scottish doctor who had moved to Virginia three decades earlier. Spence studied at the University of Edinburgh in the 1780s, a period when its medical school was the finest in the world. He was prevented from graduating by … Read more

The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

poisonous scarfIn 1873 The Medical Times and Register published an unusual case report from one  Joseph G. Richardson, a doctor from Philadelphia:

J. B., a farmer, 74 years old, residing near Darby, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, came under my care in the out-patient department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, January 27, 1873. His neck, face, and head were much swollen, Read more

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 early anaesthesia, but … Read more