The worst job in the world?

Disease of looking-glass makersOccupational diseases are those associated with a particular profession.  The first to be identified was a type of scrotal tumour which disproportionately affected chimney-sweeps: the connection was made in 1775 by Percivall Pott.

There are many well-known examples: miners developing the lung disease silicosis; phossy jaw, a disease suffered by match-makers, the result of exposure to phosphorus; and … Read more

The case of the luminous patients

On the evolution of light in the human subjectIn June 1842 the Provincial Medical Journal devoted no less than ten pages to a long essay by the physician Sir Henry Marsh – an eminent namesake of the contemporary neurosurgeon, who was a leading light in Irish medicine and became physician to Queen Victoria.  What subject could be so important that a leading journal would make it the main … Read more

The mystery of the poisonous cheese

poisoning with cheeseIn 1835 the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal published a series of articles about cheese.  For several months New England residents had been falling ill after consuming the delicious comestible, and nobody knew why.  A Dr Alcott contributed this account of one such outbreak:

At the raising of a building belonging to Seth Thomas, Esq. in Plymouth, Litchfield county, Conn. Read more

The dreadful mortification

Case of a mortification, which proceeded through a whole familyA case published in The Medical Museum of 1781 is a reminder of a world we have gratefully left behind; one in which infection could rapidly maim or kill entire families, while doctors looked on helplessly.  Life could be, in Thomas Hobbes’s phrase, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.  Hobbes was writing about war, but disease was as formidable an … Read more

The winged ones: insects in the stomach

Case of a young woman who discharged insects from her stomachIn 1824 the Transactions of the Association of Fellows and Licentiates of the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland reported an extraordinary case which would continue to be quoted in the medical literature for many decades.  The case was reported in a paper whose lengthy title was abbreviated to the rather snappier ‘Dr Pickells’ case of insects in … Read more

The human pincushion

HIstory of a patient from whom four hundred needles were extracted

This extraordinary tale appeared in The Medico-Chirurgical Review in 1825:

Rachel Hertz had lived in the enjoyment of good health up to her fourteenth year; she was then of a fair complexion, and rather of the sanguineous temperament. In August 1807, she was seized with a violent attack of cholic, which induced her to apply to Professor Hecholdt, and this Read more

The woman who could smell with her feet

Case of catalepsy with transposition of the sensesNews of a curious case reaches London from France:

Mademoiselle Melanie had enjoyed good health up to the age of twenty-one, when she began to suffer from dry cough, with pain in the chest and headache; in January, 1841, she was attacked by pleurisy of the right side, and since then has continued to suffer from pain in that region.Read more