You know those stories about old soldiers who suddenly develop mysterious back pain in their eighties, and discover that it’s caused by a bullet from the Second World War still deeply embedded in tissue? Most of them are true. Foreign bodies are often well tolerated by the body, and can lie dormant for decades before causing any problems.
This story, … Read more
Today’s likely tale comes from the Canada Medical Journal, where it appeared in 1870. Dr Chagnon from the wonderfully-named St Pie in Quebec submitted this curiosity, with tongue firmly in cheek:
In July, 1868, came to my office a woman with the following history: Two days previous, during a thunder storm, she, according to her own expression, swallowed the … Read more
Mr J.S. Webster, a surgeon from East Dereham, wrote to the London Medical Journal in 1787 to pass on an unusual case he had encountered in his practice among the poor and needy of Norfolk.
Helen Bunnett, or, as she is commonly called, the owl-eyed girl, is thirteen years old, of a fair complexion, with brown hair, and has … Read more
Occupational 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
In 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
It used to be thought dangerous to give a hot horse cold water; when I first heard this canard as a schoolboy I remember my informant telling me gravely that cold water kills horses instantly. Not having much to do with horses, it has taken me thirty years to discover that few, if any, equine deaths are attributed to … Read more
In 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
I imagine that most doctors have had to treat at least one patient who has been unlucky or stupid enough to end up with a foreign body lodged in one of their orifices. Early journals are full of such cases, from pieces of metal swallowed by mistake to insects which took up lodgings in a patient’s ear.
In 1840 the … Read more
A 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
In 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