On leeches, and how to catch them

Leeches were one of the most commonly prescribed medical treatments until the late nineteenth century.  They were a convenient way of taking blood from a patient in days when this was believed a beneficial procedure, and 20 or 30 were often applied at a time:  in one case a woman with bowel problems had no fewer than 400 … Continue reading On leeches, and how to catch them

John Keats: Ode to a Black Eye

On the first day of the Ashes Test at Lord’s, here is a cricketing curiosity – a Romantic poet picking up an injury in the winter nets.  And evidence that the team physio of the early 19th century always kept the leeches handy. On Sunday 14th February, 1819, the poet John Keats sat down to write … Continue reading John Keats: Ode to a Black Eye

A bit of a headache

One of the things that all first-aiders should know is that blades or other penetrating objects should never be removed from a stab wound.  Extraction should only be attempted by medical professionals in appropriate surroundings, since catastrophic blood loss may otherwise occur. Those with a background in emergency medicine would doubtless wince at the treatment given … Continue reading A bit of a headache

Heart disease? Have you tried using a swing?

We’ve already established that skipping ropes should be avoided at all costs, but it’s not all bad news for those who enjoy childish pursuits. James Wardrop’s On the Nature and Treatment of the Diseases of the Heart (1831), written in an age when most forms of cardiac disease were essentially untreatable, contains some advice which reflects the frustration felt by … Continue reading Heart disease? Have you tried using a swing?

Hemlock and millipedes

In September 1762 Ann James, a fifty-five-year-old woman from Boughton Monchelsea in Kent, came to the attention of Josiah Colebroke, FRS.  For some years she had been in chronic pain: She complained of most excruciating stabbing pains in both breasts, which prevented her having any rest in the night, and made her so very miserable all … Continue reading Hemlock and millipedes

Curing conjunctivitis with frogspawn

Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) was one of the most celebrated English physicians of the seventeenth century.  His Observationes Medicae (Medical Observations, 1676) contains a chapter which – perhaps optimistically – is entitled ‘Complete Methods of Curing Most Diseases’.  This is his remedy for conjunctivitis: Take ten ounces of blood from the arm, and next day exhibit … Continue reading Curing conjunctivitis with frogspawn