Death by onanism

Victorian society was famously paranoid about the dangers of masturbation. For teachers, priests and those with responsibility for young people, it was a question of morals and the corruption of youth – but the medical profession also agreed that self-abuse was a vice with terrible consequences. The old cliché that the practice ‘makes you go blind’ was not said just … Read more

The galley slave and the barrel hoop

This (almost) incredible case report was printed in The Medical and Physical Journal in 1812, but dates from almost forty years earlier, first appearing in the French medical literature.

Capacity of the human stomach

A galley-slave, a native of Nantes, entered the marine hospital at Brest the 5th of September, 1774. He complained of cough, pains in the stomach, and bowels; for which M. de Read more

A wonderful accumulation

This notable case report was published in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions in 1852.  The author, John Marshall, was a young surgeon in private practice in London; it is not clear how ‘Mrs B.’ came to be his patient, given that she lived in Oxfordshire.  Marshall later became a well-known anatomist, a Fellow of the Royal Society and professor of surgery at … Read more

The greatest phenomenon that nature has known

In 1849 a Spanish journal, La crónica de los hospitales, published a case supposed to have occurred some forty years earlier in the Mexican port of Veracruz – at the time, a Spanish colony. It was recorded in private notes made in 1809 by Dr Faustino Rodriguez, a distinguished practitioner of the city, but for some reason had never … Read more

Irritating the genitals by various means

One of the most popular stories on this blog is that of the nineteenth-century Frenchman who cut his own penis in two for sexual gratification. If you type the keywords ‘man cut penis two’ into pretty much any search engine, it’s the top hit – on the entire internet.  If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

That … Read more

The trumpeter and the walking stick

In is not unheard of for a soldier to be killed as the result of a swordfight. But it is not often that the circumstances are quite as unusual as those of this case, published in The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science in 1851 – with a patient who looked so little injured that the regimental medical officer assumed … Read more

The poison taker

There is a long and often honourable history of self-experimentation in medicine.  Medical pioneers have often been unwilling or unable to test a new therapy on living patients, since the potential harm to a volunteer was just too great to justify. But what if the researcher is convinced that the treatment they have spent years developing really will prove beneficial? … Read more

The lithophagus

Unless you’re a marine biologist, the chances are that you’ve never used the word ‘lithophagus’.  You may have eaten one, however: Lithophaga is a genus of mussels, some of whose species are edible, often served in a garlic, white wine and parsley sauce with plenty of crusty bread. Delicious.

But I digress.

‘Lithophagus’ comes from two Greek words: λίθος, … Read more