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

Trees do not grow in humans

In June 1879 the Chicago Telegraph made quite a splash with a story published under this headline:Extraordinary case

Probably the most wonderful phenomenon that has ever come under the observation of the medical fraternity of this city developed itself at the Montcalm House, on Erie street, in the person of a boy named Herbert G. Schwartz.  Schwartz senior is a farmer, Read more

Dragging his bowels after him

A case in surgery

Medics and their journals have always loved a curiosity, however long ago it occurred. This case was reported in the Medical and Surgical Journal in 1871, more than a century after the ghastly events it relates had taken place:

John Stetson, aged thirty-eight, farmer, also accustomed to slaughter cattle, July 19, 1768, in a paroxysm of insanity secreted himself in Read more

Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)

Irritable patientsHave you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from the pain.

Most difficult to … Read more

Impaled on a stake

Recovery from accidentHow about this for a lucky escape?  It’s the sort of grisly farm accident which might be featured in a medical documentary like 24 Hours in A&E, with one significant difference. Anybody unlucky enough to be impaled by a stake today could expect major surgery and a lengthy hospital stay – but this patient made a total recovery after … Read more

The man with the rubber jaw

dental operationsMaxillofacial surgeons are some of the most ridiculously overqualified people on the planet. In the UK it is compulsory for them to hold degrees in both medicine and dentistry, and they can only practise after well over a decade of training. This enviable expertise equips them to undertake a wide range of procedures on the face, jaws and neck. Since … Read more

Medicine or marinade?

External stimulantsEarly nineteenth-century doctors had some funny ideas about treating infectious disease.  Before the discovery of microbes, next to nothing was known about what caused infections, or how to cure them.   For many years, physicians believed that stimulating the outer surfaces of the body would have an effect.  Several methods of doing so were employed: cupping, in which partially-evacuated glasses were … Read more

Trouble at t’mill

Remarkable case of a lacerated woundLast week I revealed the dangers of working in the mirror manufacturing trade in 19th-century Bohemia.  Here’s another tale of occupational peril, published in The Western Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences in 1833.

Mr. J., about twelve weeks since, while standing near the end of the arbor of a heavy grindstone revolving rapidly by water power, Read more