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

Boiling water and birch twigs

In 1843 a Dr T.O. Ward wrote to the London Medical Gazette on the subject of pain. A previous correspondent had suggested that victims of asphyxiation felt nothing and were insensible to pain.  Dr Ward begged to differ, drawing on his own childhood as evidence: When a boy, I was very fond of making boyish … Continue reading Boiling water and birch twigs

Champagne ad libitum

Morning sickness is a common affliction which affects the majority of pregnant women. A few suffer a far more debilitating form known as hyperemesis gravidarum, in which vomiting is so severe that dehydration and weight loss can occur. The Duchess of Cambridge required hospital treatment for the complication while pregnant with Prince George. In September … Continue reading Champagne ad libitum

‘Powder a Toad’ – Wesley’s Primitive Physick

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was one of the most celebrated Englishmen of the eighteenth century.  He spent years travelling the country, speaking in fields and town squares and preaching his distinctive version of Protestantism, one which stressed personal holiness, charity and asceticism – though without any of the puritanical excesses of Calvinism.  One … Continue reading ‘Powder a Toad’ – Wesley’s Primitive Physick

The electric spectacles

Exciting news from the world of medical technology was reported in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in 1850.  The following announcement was a late example of the mania for galvanic (i.e., electrical) medicine which began in the eighteenth century. For many decades, after the investigation of electrical phenomena began in earnest, electric current was … Continue reading The electric spectacles