The cod-liver oil binge

Lupus cured by enormous quantities of cod-liver oilLupus is an autoimmune disease characterised by a skin rash, joint pain and fatigue.  Although poorly understood even today, it is known to be caused by an anomalous response of the body’s immune system, which erroneously begins to attack otherwise healthy tissue.

In 1852, when the Canada Medical Journal reported this case, the condition was widely (and incorrectly) believed to … Read more

Opium – perfect for babies

Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup a poisonIn 1849 Mrs Charlotte Winslow of Bangor in Maine invented a medicinal product for children which was as successful in its day as Calpol is now.  Any comparison must, however, end there.

Mrs Winslow's soothing syrup advertisement‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’ was marketed as an effective analgesic, to be given to teething infants and older children with indigestion.  A contemporary advertisement declared that ‘it is … Read more

Mummies and rhubarb

mummiesI recently wrote about the horrifying animal remedies which one could buy in a London apothecary’s shop in the seventeenth century.  These were far from being the most disgusting products on sale in these emporia.  Apothecaries also traded in various human substances.  There’s a useful catalogue in Robert James’s 1747 edition of the London Pharmacopoeia:

Homo, Man, is not only Read more

Wrapped in a dead sheep

contusions of the epigastriumOne of the difficulties of surgery, even today, is keeping the patient’s body temperature at a safe level.  Core temperatures can drop quite dramatically when a large incision has been made, and although it is theoretically possible to keep the patient warm by making the operating theatre hotter, in practice this makes conditions intolerable for the surgeons and other theatre … Read more

A fright for sore eyes

Mode of managing ocular inflammations

Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes.  Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers.  In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the dangers of sunlight in … Read more

Medicated cigarettes: the new panacea

Inhalation of medicine by smoking cigarettesNineteenth-century opinion on the subject of smoking was sharply divided.  On the one hand there were many prominent doctors who condemned the practice as unhealthy, and even suggested that it caused cancers of the mouth; on the other, there were plenty of physicians who believed that smoking eased coughs and other respiratory disorders by promoting the production of mucus.

In … Read more

The port-wine enema

Alcoholic drinks were an important part of the physician’s armoury until surprisingly recently.  In the early years of the twentieth century, brandy (or whiskey, in the US) was still being administered to patients as a stimulant after they had undergone major surgery.  Every tipple you can think of – from weak ale to strong spirits – has been prescribed at … Read more