The child who swallowed a pin

The eighteenth-century surgeon William Boys, although a distinguished clinician and Fellow of the Royal Society, was perhaps better known as an antiquary and historian of his home county of Kent. Among his published works is an account of the Luxborough Galley, a notorious shipwreck in which the few survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive – one of … Read more

Plagiarising the past

an extraordinarily large calculusIn 1850 a doctor from New Buckenham in Norfolk, Horace Howard, submitted this short case report to The Lancet:

The patient, Maria N— aged twenty-three years, had experienced for a long time much irritation about the kidneys and urinary apparatus, for which different palliative remedies were administered, but with little relief. The patient was lost sight of for Read more

The spermatorrhoea alarm

observations on spermatorrhoeaIn 1843 the Provincial Medical Journal published a landmark paper by Dr W.H. Ranking from Suffolk. It was a ‘landmark’ in that it was the first full-length publication in English to discuss a new disease that was soon to become the scourge of the male population: spermatorrhoea.  Or, in plain English, involuntary ejaculation.

The person who first brought this worrying … Read more

The other Horatio Nelson

The Canadian physician Henry Horatio Nelson was born six years after the Battle of Trafalgar, so it does not take much imagination to work out how his parents chose his middle name.  Perhaps understandably, he chose to call himself Horace Nelson, a name less likely to cause his patients to smirk.

Although little known today, Horace Nelson was a pioneer … Read more

The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

19th century tonsillectomyUntil fairly recently, tonsillectomy was quite a common procedure – and for many children their first experience of surgery.  Because it’s a straightforward operation, doctors would often recommend that children had their tonsils out even if they had had only a few minor bouts of tonsillitis.  It was even used as a precautionary measure: many of the child migrants to Read more

The hearing-aid chair

John Harrison Curtis was a prominent nineteenth-century specialist in diseases of the eyes and ears who became an intimate of the royal family.  He was also, according to some, a quack.  The sixth edition of his medical bestseller, A Treatise on the Physiology and Pathology of the Ear (1836) contains this ingenious invention:

the chair

This chair is intended for the benefit Read more

Fishing line and marine sponges: the operating theatre of 1888

In 1888 the great American surgeon Rudolph Matas saved the life of a patient who had been shot in the arm.  The operation was a significant moment in the evolution of vascular surgery, since it introduced an entirely new technique for dealing with aneurysm – a condition in which an artery wall is weakened and balloons outwards.

What astonishes me … Read more