This brief case report is a reminder that there are certain medical horrors which were once commonplace but which are never seen today in the developed world. Untreatable conditions would progress unhindered, often resulting in terrible deformity. Tumours could reach a size almost unimaginable to the modern mind – although in developing countries such cases do, sadly, still arise.
This … Read more
Recovering from the annual excess of mince pies and roast potatoes, I was amused to come across this passage from an important work published in 1829, Sir Robert Christison’s A Treatise on Poisons. Christison was one of the founders of nephrology, the branch of medicine devoted to the study of the kidneys, but was also influential in the fields … Read more
If you haven’t yet bought everything for your Christmas dinner, this tale from almost 200 years ago may cause you to remove a few items from your shopping list. Published in the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions in 1814 by Thomas Chevalier, a distinguished surgeon and polymath also notable for his English translation of Pascal’s Pensées, it concerns a teenage boy who … Read more
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
Here’s a report of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey from a little over a century ago which truly made me grateful for modern medicine – and in particular for the modern regulation of the profession. In this case a doctor without any qualifications escaped with a slap on the wrist, despite having killed a patient.
On March 3… Read more
In 1841 The Dublin Journal of Medical Science printed a short report of a meeting which had taken place earlier that year in London. It begins with a sarcastic little disclaimer:
We are not quite satisfied that the subjoined paragraph, taken from a weekly London paper, contains a correct account of Dr. Elliotson’s Phrenological Lecture on the cranium of De … Read more
Compulsive swallowers have always featured heavily in medical literature. There are numerous cases in 19th-century journals – but most of the individuals concerned were obviously suffering from some kind of mental illness. This, from the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions for 1823, is the first I’ve come across in which the patient was swallowing knives for a laugh.
In the month … Read more
William Harvey is deservedly one of the most famous physicians who ever lived. His demonstration that the heart is a pump which circulates blood throughout the body was a triumph of early modern science, a discovery that revolutionised medicine.
In addition to De Motu Cordis, the treatise in which he details the sophisticated experiments and subtle reasoning that led … Read more
Spontaneous human combustion became a fashionable topic in the early nineteenth century, when a number of sensational presumed cases were reported in the popular press. Charles Dickens even killed off Krook, the alcoholic rag dealer in Bleak House, in this manner.
Sometimes the body of the victim was the only thing that had been burnt, suggesting that the combustion … Read more
George II is the only British monarch known to have died while defecating. At about seven o’clock on the morning of October 25th, 1760, one of the page boys at Kensington Palace heard a loud noise from the King’s private apartment, as if a piece of furniture had fallen over.* When the valet went to investigate, he found His Majesty … Read more