The baby who was bathed in a tumbler

One area in which medicine has made gigantic strides in the last thirty years is the treatment of very premature babies. Pregnancy lasts on average 40 weeks; a baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation is classed as premature. Most premature babies are born in what is known as the ‘late preterm’ stage, only two or three weeks earlier than … Read more

He swallowed a serpent

A curious phenomenon common to medical history and folklore is that of the bosom serpent – stories of snakes, frogs, lizards and other animals living inside the human stomach or intestines. According to the physician and medical historian Jan Bondeson, “no fewer than 68 case reports of live reptiles or amphibians inside the gastrointestinal tract” appeared in the professional literature … 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

The 43-year pregnancy

In years gone by, it was quite common for a doctor to pass on his practice to one of his children: successive generations of medics might serve their local community for decades. The Watkins family, originally from the Northamptonshire town of Towcester, is an extreme example of such a dynasty: Timothy Watkins (1755-1834) was the first of seven generations of … Read more

A dubious paper

In 1813 the editor of The Medical and Physical Journal, Samuel Fothergill, accepted for publication a paper by John Spence, a Scottish doctor who had moved to Virginia three decades earlier. Spence studied at the University of Edinburgh in the 1780s, a period when its medical school was the finest in the world. He was prevented from graduating by … Read more

The amphibious infant

amphibious infantIt is June 1873, and some very odd tidings are published in the latest edition of the Medical Notes and Queries:

A story of an “Amphibious Infant” has found its way into some of the London papers. The subject is introduced thus:— “Strange results of very early training: a baby that paddles around under water for twenty-five minutes; a Read more

The snuff-eating nose centipede

A worm of the centipede kindHere’s an alarming pair of cases reported in the first volume of the Medical Essays and Observations, published in 1764:

A woman of a good heal constitution, and about thirty-six years old, began to complain of a fixed pain in the lower and right side of her forehead.

The adjective ‘heal’, an archaic form, means ‘whole’ or ‘healthy’.

During Read more

The forty-foot tapeworm

Thirty-six foot tapeworm

Medical journals do not often publish articles by undergraduates these days, but an 1847 edition of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal included a short paper by one John D. Twiggs, described simply as a ‘student of medicine’. Mr Twiggs (we cannot call him ‘Dr’) betrays his inexperience in a certain lack of professional scepticism; but he certainly had an … Read more