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
In 1809 the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal printed this striking report of an agricultural accident from a surgeon in Ripon:
August 30th 1808, ten o’clock AM, I went to Norton Mills, about four miles from hence, to see John Brown, aged twelve years, who had received a wound in the abdomen by a pair of wool shears.
It … Read more
Being shot in the head with a revolver is not exactly a minor injury. But in 1875 the Medical Record published this unusual story about a patient who managed to walk home, and talk to his family, shortly after receiving a bullet in his brain:
On Friday, the 21th of March, early in the afternoon, Mr. M. Ballerstein, a gentleman … Read more
In 1863 a surgeon from the small German town of Gräfenhainichen, Herr Geissler, wrote to one of the Berlin journals to share an extraordinary tale he had encountered in his practice. The publication to which he submitted the case Monatsschrift für Geburtskunde und Frauenkrankheiten, was devoted to gynaecology and obstetrics and indeed this story is about childbirth – though … Read more
In 1823 a prominent London physician, John Ayrton Paris, published a book in collaboration with a barrister called J. S. Fonblanque. Medical Jurisprudence was the first English-language textbook on the subject, and went through many editions. It was a valuable resource whenever the worlds of law and medicine overlapped – criminal trials, inquests, or claims of medical negligence.
It also … Read more