On flatulence and Darwin

On flatulenceIn 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 suffering from anxiety disorders. … Read more

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 venom into animals and then … Read more

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 1842 Charles Meigs, Professor … Read more

‘Powder a Toad’ – Wesley’s Primitive Physick

Primitive PhysickJohn 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 biographer estimates that Wesley travelled … Read more

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 believed to be a panacea … Read more

Medicinal pancakes

It being Shrove Tuesday, I thought I’d write a short post about pancakes. Not how to make them, or the reasons for eating them today, but their little-known nineteenth-century medical uses. Yes, really.

Oddly, the pancake enjoyed a short-lived vogue in the world of gynaecology and obstetrics.  Why it should have been particularly associated with female reproductive disorders is anybody’s … Read more

Benjamin Rush in The Lancet

Benjamin RushPhysician, 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 of yellow fever in Philadelphia … Read more