A likely story

The French surgeon Jean Civiale was one of the most significant figures in the history of urology, the branch of medicine dedicated to the urinary (and male reproductive) systems. In the 1820s he devised the technique of lithotripsy to treat bladder stones, the first minimally invasive surgical procedure. Until then, the only way to remove such stones had been to … Read more

Born under a manger

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

A practical joke

Some of the greatest advances in nineteenth-century surgery were made by military surgeons. British surgeons were not exactly short of opportunities: the country’s military forces began the century at war with France, and ended it fighting the Boers, with barely a peaceful year in between. While battlefield injuries provided horribly frequent opportunities for improving surgical techniques, not every wound was … Read more

Irritating the genitals by various means

One of the most popular stories on this blog is that of the nineteenth-century Frenchman who cut his own penis in two for sexual gratification. If you type the keywords ‘man cut penis two’ into pretty much any search engine, it’s the top hit – on the entire internet.  If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

That … Read more

She swallowed a mouse

In 1833 one Dr Heymann, a doctor from the Westphalian town of Oldendorf, submitted a really rather extraordinary case to a German journal, Hufelands Journal der practischen Heilkunde. It is almost certainly without parallel in the medical literature, given that the headline translates as ‘A living mouse swallowed’:

A living mouse swallowed

A desperately poor labourer in the village of Lashorst, in addition Read more

Cosmetic(s) surgery

pomatum pot found in vaginaThis unexpected discovery was reported in a French journal, the Répertoire Generale d’Anatomie, in 1827. The patient was treated by Guillaume Dupuytren, the leading French surgeon of the day – although this was far from being one of his most celebrated cases:

Ann G—, forty-five years old, presented herself at a consultation of the Hotel-Dieu, requesting assistance for a Read more

Rare and peculiar

“How did it happen?” is a question every emergency physician will ask hundreds if not thousands of times during their career. The answer is usually mundane: “I fell off a ladder”; “I was playing rugby”; “I’d had a bit too much to drink.”  But just occasionally the patient is mysteriously coy about the reasons for their admission to hospital, suddenly … Read more

Show and tell

Singular instance of wound of the abdomenIn 1828 The Lancet reported a routine meeting of the London Medical Society. It began with a memorable presentation given by William Shearly, a surgeon at the Royal Naval Hospital in Deal:

After some ordinary business had been transacted, Mr. Shearly introduced to the notice of the Society a man who had suffered severe injury to the abdomen and loss Read more

The lithophagus

Unless you’re a marine biologist, the chances are that you’ve never used the word ‘lithophagus’.  You may have eaten one, however: Lithophaga is a genus of mussels, some of whose species are edible, often served in a garlic, white wine and parsley sauce with plenty of crusty bread. Delicious.

But I digress.

‘Lithophagus’ comes from two Greek words: λίθος, … Read more

Born in a cesspit

This strange little tale appeared in the London Medical and Surgical Journal in June 1832: attempt at infanticide

A curious case of this description became the subject of investigation at the Bow-street Police Office, a few days ago.

Interestingly, this crime was not being investigated by what we would regard as the ‘official’ police. London’s Metropolitan Police had been set up just three … Read more