Falling pregnant

The seventeenth-century French surgeon François Mauriceau was one of the founders of modern obstetrics. Over several decades he studied every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth and the health of newborn babies, attempting to put the discipline on a new theoretically sound and anatomically-informed basis. His masterpiece, published in 1668, is the treatise Des maladies des femmes … Continue reading Falling pregnant

A span in length

More strange news from the Philosophical Transactions, the venerable journal of the Royal Society. This brief report was contributed in 1720 by Abraham Vater, a German anatomist who was a particular authority on the digestive tract (the ampulla of Vater, a structure at the meeting of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct, is named … Continue reading A span in length

The boy who choked on his gold

I came across this interesting story in the Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Surgery at Paris, a collection of cases published in English in 1750. Until I looked into it more thoroughly I didn’t realise that this is not just a curiosity but a genuinely pioneering operation. It was documented in a treatise published … Continue reading The boy who choked on his gold

The healing power of nature

At the annual meeting of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in August 1844, a doctor from Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, Edward Daniell, presented this unusual case. He prefaced his account with the observation that it would ‘perhaps be interesting more from its novelty than for its value in a surgical point of view’. He … Continue reading The healing power of nature

The 43-year pregnancy

In years gone by, it was quite common for a doctor to pass on his practice to one of his children: successive generations of medics might serve their local community for decades. The Watkins family, originally from the Northamptonshire town of Towcester, is an extreme example of such a dynasty: Timothy Watkins (1755-1834) was the … Continue reading The 43-year pregnancy

The cheese knife lobotomy

This alarming headline was attached to a letter sent to The Lancet in 1838 by Dr Congreve Selwyn, a family physician in Cheltenham. His brief communication related the story of an unfortunate accident which had taken place in his practice some 17 years earlier: William Bishop, living at Hill Farm, Bosbury, Herefordshire, aged four years … Continue reading The cheese knife lobotomy

The man whose intestines twinkled like stars

Every so often I read an old medical case that makes me wince and ask myself, “However did they recover from that?” This tale, reported 142 years ago in the Richmond and Louisville Medical Journal, falls squarely into this category. The initial injury was bad enough, but the circumstances of the case presented the surgeon … Continue reading The man whose intestines twinkled like stars