Mass delusions

Observations on scurvyAn article published in The Lancet in 1848 contains a remarkable and early example of the power of the placebo effect.  James Turnbull, a doctor at the Liverpool Northern Hospital, wrote an article about the history and effects of scurvy, the condition caused by a lack of vitamin C, for many centuries the scourge of sailors. It includes this gem:… Read more

The miller’s tale

Account of the man with his arm torn offIn 1737 the Philosophical Transactions published a medical case so remarkable that it was still being quoted in journals well over a century later. It was reported by John Belchier, a surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Gentleman’s Magazine from 1745 contains this anecdote about him:

One Stephen Wright, who, as a Read more

The man who coughed up a knife

knife blade

Here’s an arresting story from 1870, reported to the Chicago Medical Times by a Dr J.F. Snyder: 

James Thompson, sixty years of age, stout and robust, usually of active habits, suddenly commenced declining in health, without apparent cause. When I was consulted, he had been, as he expressed it, “under the weather for five or six weeks.” His symptoms were Read more

Cured by a lightning bolt

Lightning bolt packet shipOn April 16th 1828 a ship called the New York sailed from its eponymous home port destined for Liverpool. She carried a full complement of passengers and cargo and – as reported in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal shortly afterwards,

on the morning of the 19th, was struck by lightning, which shattered the main royal mast, and, gliding down the Read more

Mütter’s operation – plastic surgery, 19th-century style

Case of deformity cured by Mutter's operationIn 1855 the editor of the Western Lancet, Dr T. Wood, published an article in his own journal on the subject of plastic (reconstructive) surgery. This clinical sub-discipline was still in its infancy, but a handful of surgeons had achieved wonders in treating severely disfigured patients.  The leading American expert was Thomas Dent Mütter, who had spent a … Read more

Oshkosh, by gosh

Severe fracture of the skullHere’s a spectacular head injury (and recovery) reported in the Transactions of the Wisconsin State Medical Society in 1869.  This lucky, lucky man survived an accident which left him with a large portion of his brain hanging out of his skull. The unusual case was reported by Dr Linde of Oshkosh, Wisconsin – a city perhaps best known today as … Read more