The child who swallowed a pin

The eighteenth-century surgeon William Boys, although a distinguished clinician and Fellow of the Royal Society, was perhaps better known as an antiquary and historian of his home county of Kent. Among his published works is an account of the Luxborough Galley, a notorious shipwreck in which the few survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive – one of … Read more

Mr Trought’s tobacco enema

In June 1828 the Lancet published a pair of short case histories that contemporary readers must have found rather confusing. Printed on the same page, they both dealt with cases in which a strangulated hernia had been treated with a tobacco enema (yes, really: an infusion of tobacco administered via the anus). In the first case the treatment was a … Read more

The eye magnet

Today’s story first appeared in the Observationes, a collection of case reports by the German surgeon Wilhelm Fabry (1560-1634).  Fabry, also known as Fabricius Hildanus, is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of German surgery’ and was a methodical and scientific operator whose careful descriptions of his work exerted a powerful influence on later generations of medics.

It isn’t … Read more

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 blood pressure and protein in … Read more

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 of apoplexy’. Whether by … Read more

A leech on the eyeball

Leech to the eyeBloodletting 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 the complaint – as many … Read more