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

Reeking from the jaw of the living animal

The 1843 volume of The Dublin Journal of Medical Science contains this gem from Mr Robert Twiss, a surgeon from Kerry. Though it’s only a short report it made quite a stir on publication, and was still being cited in textbooks of dentistry many decades later. The first sentence is nothing if not arresting:  On … Continue reading Reeking from the jaw of the living animal

The spear and the eucalyptus tree

In 1891 The Lancet printed this case report by Andrew Ross, a doctor who some years earlier had been practising in the small Australian settlement of Molong in New South Wales:  On Dec. 25th a messenger arrived requesting my attendance on one “Harry,” an aboriginal, who had, in an encounter with another of the race, … Continue reading The spear and the eucalyptus tree

Toast and herbs

William Salmon was a seventeenth-century physician and a prolific writer, the author of numerous books on surgery and internal medicine. He also practised alchemy and astrology in an age which regarded these disciplines as legitimate and empirical sciences (his contemporary Isaac Newton was also an enthusiastic alchemist). In 1687 Salmon published a book entitled Παρατηρηματα (‘Observations’, … Continue reading Toast and herbs

Snake poo salesman

In 1862 an Edinburgh-trained physician, Dr James Hastings, published a slim volume about the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases of the lung. It advocates the use of substances which much of the profession would regard as unorthodox, as he acknowledges in his preface: It has been suggested that the peculiar character of these agents … Continue reading Snake poo salesman

On flatulence and Darwin

In 1867 The Medical Press and Circular published a series of articles by the physician Dr John Chapman on a subject in which he was a world authority: flatulence. To be fair to Dr Chapman, he was also an influential publisher and an expert in psychology specialising in ‘neurotics’ – those we would now describe as … Continue reading On flatulence and Darwin

Rattlesnakes and brandy

Around 7,000 people in the US are bitten by venomous snakes every year. Many of these are rattlesnake bites, but thanks to modern medicine there are only a handful of fatalities. The most important breakthrough of the last century was the invention of antivenin (also known as antivenom) – a remedy made by injecting rattlesnake … Continue reading Rattlesnakes and brandy