The pigeon’s rump cure

Eclampsia is a serious condition affecting women before, during or after childbirth.  The name means literally ‘bursting forth’, an apt description for the seizures that characterise the condition, which arrive suddenly and dramatically. The cause of eclampsia has never been identified, although it is always preceded by pre-eclampsia – a combination of symptoms including high … Continue reading The pigeon’s rump cure

The most eccentric physician who ever lived

Dr Messenger Monsey was one of the best-known physicians in eighteenth-century London, although probably not one of the most capable. He began his career as an obscure country doctor in Suffolk, but his fortunes changed after he was summoned to the bedside of an influential aristocrat, the Earl of Godolphin, who had suffered a ‘fit … Continue reading The most eccentric physician who ever lived

A leech on the eyeball

Bloodletting is an inescapable theme of a medical blog set largely in the nineteenth century. Although venesection (opening a vein) was frequently used, for minor complaints the weapon of choice was the leech, which could extract a small amount of blood relatively painlessly. Doctors varied the numbers of leeches applied according to the severity of … Continue reading A leech on the eyeball

The turpentine vapour bath

The year is 1874, and American medics are deeply concerned about the activities of quacks and unlicensed doctors who are damaging the reputation of the profession. One particularly worrying case is reported by The Medical and Surgical Reporter: The following account is sent us by a correspondent in Baltimore. It is needless to say that … Continue reading The turpentine vapour bath

Bled dry

Most visitors to this blog will probably be aware that for centuries bloodletting played a central role in Western medicine.  This is partly the result of the extraordinarily long-lasting  influence of the Greek physician Galen, whose humoral theory underpinned medical practice until the Renaissance. Strangely, bleeding remained commonplace until much later, persisting well into the … Continue reading Bled dry

The spider’s web cure

Until the nineteenth century, spider’s web was often used as a folk remedy for superficial lacerations. The great tensile strength of spider silk was probably quite effective at holding the edges of a wound together, although doubtless it also brought the risk of infection. Until I came across an article published in The Dublin Quarterly … Continue reading The spider’s web cure