Committee reports aren’t exactly famed for their entertainment value. But while leafing through the 1850 volume of the Transactions of the American Medical Association I found one that contained an unexpected gem:
Buried deep within this lengthy document is a section about aneurysms – a disorder of the blood vessels in which a localised weakness causes the vessel to bulge … Read more
This case was published in the Report of the Army Medical Department for 1873, an annual publication produced by the medics of the British military. Browsing its pages, my first reaction was astonishment at the sheer size of the British Army at the height of Empire, and how many parts of the world they were stationed in: much of … Read more
On February 2 1888 the newly-founded Brooklyn Surgical Society held one of its regular meetings in New York. Local surgeons presented new research and reported on their recent surgical experience. But the most memorable event of the evening was a presentation by Dr George Fowler, a surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital. He began by asking one of his patients to … Read more
The following remarkable narrative was published in The Medical and Physical Journal in April 1812. The author, Stephen Love Hammick, was in his mid-thirties when he reported this case; he was later made a baronet in acknowledgment for his service as personal physician to the Prince of Wales. He was also one of the original 300 fellows of the Royal … Read more
Many medicines prescribed by physicians of the past were chemicals now known to be highly toxic. Mercury, arsenic and antimony were among the harmful substances regularly administered for a variety of conditions. In this case, published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1759, a young boy was apparently cured by another chemical now known to be hazardous to health – but … Read more
Philipp Franz von Walther was an eminent German surgeon highly regarded for his expertise in ophthalmology and as a pioneer in plastic surgery. While serving as professor at the University of Bonn he was also the co-editor of an influential periodical, the Journal der Chirurgie und Augenheilkunde. In 1822 he published this surprising clinical report, which was subsequently translated (and, … Read more
Cases of unusual foreign objects can make entertaining reading, though often for the ‘wrong’ reasons. The medical literature is full of tales of bizarre items inserted in orifices where they weren’t meant to go, but such stories seldom add much to the sum of human knowledge – except perhaps provide yet more evidence of our capacity for folly.
This example … Read more
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
Some time ago I wrote about Thomas Tipple, a Londoner who was impaled by his own carriage in 1812. The shaft of the vehicle passed right through his chest, causing massive injury, but he made a good recovery – even though he received the bare minimum of treatment. Thanks to the exceptional nature of that case, Tipple’s name remained … Read more
If you enjoy these stories of medical mishaps and surgical drama, why not buy my book? The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth is out now, published by Transworld. The American edition will be published on November 20th.
In 1899 the Atlanta surgeon Dr Kinsman Divine dropped dead while performing an operation. The procedure was nearly complete, and he was putting … Read more