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 … Continue reading The 43-year pregnancy

The amphibious infant

It 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 … Continue reading The amphibious infant

The snuff-eating nose centipede

Here’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 … Continue reading The snuff-eating nose centipede

The forty-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; … Continue reading The forty-foot tapeworm

The man with 87 children

The English physician Samuel Merriman (1771-1852) was a leading authority on midwifery and the diseases of pregnancy.  His best-known work, published in 1814, was Synopsis of the Various Kinds of Difficult Parturition, a treatise on the dangers of childbirth which was translated into several languages.  In an engaging section on multiple births he includes a … Continue reading The man with 87 children

The double monster

The phenomenon of conjoined twins was poorly understood until the twentieth century. Though even the earliest medical journals contain reports of many cases, the predominant tone is one of horror and even fear rather than compassion or detached interest. Right up until the end of the nineteenth century, words such as ‘monster’ or ‘monstrosity’ were … Continue reading The double monster

The fire-proof man

In 1828 The Lancet reported the antics of  a person they called ‘the fire-proof man’, a Cuban with extraordinary abilities: The French medical journal, La Clinique, gives an account of the experiments of M. Martinez, the fire-proof man, as he is called, who is now one of the principal objects of attraction at Paris. M. … Continue reading The fire-proof man

Inexpressibly loathsome and sickening

Unlikely tales were often swallowed unquestioningly by the editors of medical journals in the nineteenth century, so it was a welcome corrective to find this preface to a case report published in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1854: An esteemed correspondent has sent us an account of “a most extraordinary case,” which he says he … Continue reading Inexpressibly loathsome and sickening