The perils of a sneeze

A few months ago I wrote about the criminal who was lucky to recover after inhaling a fake gold earring. By chance I’ve just come across another case report written by the same Victorian surgeon, Bernard Pitts. Not a well-known figure, principally because he wrote little and shunned publicity. But he seems to have been a very good … Read more

A cautionary tale

This case was reported in the Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital Reports – the in-house journal published by the London hospital of the same name – in 1879. The author of this article, William Steavenson, was a 29-year-old house physician at Barts (as those familiar with the hospital call it). Steavenson’s interests included chronic asthma – from which he had suffered since … Read more

Difficult to swallow

Years ago, many leading hospitals had their own journals, with most or all of the articles produced by the institution’s clinical staff. A couple of American centres (notably the Mayo Clinic) still lend their names to medical journals, but on this side of the Atlantic such in-house publications have largely gone extinct.

This criminal caper was published in the St Read more

Moulded to the lid

The Victorian surgeon Sir Jonathan Hutchinson was ‘one of the great medical geniuses of his time’, according to his entry in Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows, the biographical reference work curated by the Royal College of Surgeons. Hutchinson had an astonishing range of interests – he was an expert in infectious disease (the world’s leading authority on syphilis), in … Read more

Resuscitated by a Romanov

I came across this case quite by chance, drawn in by a striking headline. But after investigating a little further I was amused to discover that one of those involved was an ancestor of mine.

This story was first published two centuries ago, in the Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society. The humane societies were organisations set up with … Read more

A gallon a day keeps the doctor away

Bloodletting is one of the oldest medical treatments of all, employed for centuries in cultures all over the world. It’s also become a sort of lazy shorthand for the ignorance of our ancestors, the prime example of a useless and harmful technique that doctors persisted in using despite no good evidence for its efficacy.

Although it was largely abandoned as … Read more

A triumph of surgery

In June 1898, British newspapers reported an exciting medical story under the headline ‘Triumph in Surgery’. Their source was a case history published in that week’s edition of The Lancet. The author, Dr William Brown of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was not a well-known figure; but for a few days, at least, he enjoyed a reputation as a pioneering surgeon.… Read more