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

Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Physician, chemist, writer and revolutionary: Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a remarkable man in a remarkable age. Arguably the greatest physician America had yet produced, he was an early and tireless advocate for vaccination, an authority on epidemic disease and wrote the first American textbook on mental health. He was also controversial: during a dreadful outbreak … Continue reading Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Sober up the nineteenth-century way

As Christmas celebrations fade away and battered livers dubiously await the assault of New Year’s Eve, now is a good time to consider one of medicine’s oldest questions: how to counteract the effects of alcohol. Nineteenth-century medical writers seem to have been more concerned with prevention than cure: journal articles say little about curing a … Continue reading Sober up the nineteenth-century way

All hail the strawberry

A number of fruits and vegetables which are part of our regular diet were more prized in past centuries for their medicinal qualities. The strawberry is one of the gastronomic highlights of the British summer, but until the early 19th century the fruit was just as much cherished for its varied therapeutic uses. One Anglo-Saxon medical text contains … Continue reading All hail the strawberry

Bleeding you well

More from Lorenz Heister’s surgical textbook Chirurgie, published in 1718, on which I have written before. The practice of bloodletting, also known as phlebotomy, was a staple treatment for millennia and still had influential advocates at the end of the nineteenth century.  Most people will be aware that doctors used to bleed their patients, but … Continue reading Bleeding you well