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

The human piggy bank

Eels 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 … Continue reading The human piggy bank

The boy who vomited his own twin

This 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 … Continue reading The boy who vomited his own twin

Don’t mess with an electric eel

Few 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 … Continue reading Don’t mess with an electric eel

The child with Bonaparte in his eyes

At 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 … Continue reading The child with Bonaparte in his eyes

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 … Continue reading The supernumerary leg

Monsieur Mangetout

Medical journals usually pride themselves on presenting cutting-edge research, but in 1851 The Medical Examiner reported a case which was already half a century old.  It’s not clear what they thought it added to contemporary scholarship, but it’s certainly a good story. Charles Demery, a native of Benche, on the frontiers of Poland, aged 21, … Continue reading Monsieur Mangetout