The man with 87 children

difficult parturitionThe 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 couple of wonderful anecdotes.… Read more

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 commonly used to describe them, … Read more

The fire-proof man

The fire-proof manIn 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. Martinez is not, like the Read more

Inexpressibly loathsome and sickening

Worms after deathUnlikely 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 “clipped from a Read more

The human piggy bank

PolyphagiaEels seem to have featured regularly in this blog, for some reason. First there was the physician who had a shocking experience with an electric eel, and more recently we’ve had the dubious tale of the boy with an eel in his stomach.

Here’s another story involving an ingested eel, and much more besides.  In 1826 The London Medical Read more

The boy who vomited his own twin

A foetus vomited by a boyThis delightful case was reported in the London Medical and Surgical Journal in 1835, having previously appeared in a Greek journal, the Sother.  The original article was by a Dr Ardoin – a Frenchman, it appears, in practice in Greece.  His patient was a young boy called Demetrius Stamatelli:

On the 19th July last, when M. Ardoin was called Read more

Don’t mess with an electric eel

gymnotus electricusFew creatures have provided such enduring fascination to the medical profession as the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), a creature capable of delivering an electric shock of up to 850 volts (and 1 amp) on demand.  Though remarkable, they are not unique: several other species of electric fish are known, including the electric catfish found in the Nile (… Read more

The child with Bonaparte in his eyes

Child with Napoleon Bonaparte written in his irisAt least twice a year one or other of the newspapers prints a story about one of those mysterious apparitions in which the likeness of Jesus is burnt on to a piece of toast, or can be seen (if you squint) in the seeds of a watermelon.  In 1828 the London Medical Gazette reported a strange Napoleonic equivalent – thirteen … Read more

The supernumerary leg

Before the advent of antenatal screening, birth abnormalities were far commoner than they are today.  Early medical journals had a particular fascination with these ‘monstrosities’, printing regular reports of children born without limbs or with anomalous or absent internal organs.  Reading these reports today, there is often little sense that they were printed for any inherent scientific interest, but to … Read more