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, … Continue reading The other Horatio Nelson

The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

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 … Continue reading The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

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: This chair … Continue reading The hearing-aid chair

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 … Continue reading Fishing line and marine sponges: the operating theatre of 1888