The case of the missing pen

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

Struck dumb

Extinction of voice caused by lightningToday’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

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