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
You’ve heard of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut; but what about a drill (or rather two drills) to crack a cherry stone?
That is exactly what took place at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris in 1833. The surgeon responsible was the great Guillaume Dupuytren, and his unusual case was reported in the Bulletin General de Therapeutique a … Read more
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
In 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
On a warm August afternoon a man in his fifties is enjoying a game of bowls in the affluent English town of Tunbridge Wells. Suddenly he passes out and falls to the ground, apparently dead. If this scene were unfolding today, an ambulance would probably arrive in a few minutes, and paramedics would attempt resuscitation before whisking the poor man … Read more
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
John Hunter was one of the great medics of the eighteenth century. His name lives on today in the Hunterian Museum, a huge collection of anatomical specimens – both human and animal – which he amassed over many years for study and teaching. He was an innovative surgeon whose practice was heavily influenced by the discoveries he made at … Read more
Until 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
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:
This chair is intended for the benefit … Read more
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