Smoking’s good for you – as long as you’re a priest

The editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal surely had no idea of the furore that he was provoking in March 1839 when he published an inoffensive little article about parish priests:  Within less than twenty years a new disease has been developed in this country, which is almost exclusively confined to parish ministers. … Continue reading Smoking’s good for you – as long as you’re a priest

Catching a disease through an electric wire

Here’s something to get unnecessarily worried about: apparently it’s possible to catch a disease through an electric wire! As reported in the Medico-Chirurgical Review for 1833, a doctor treating a patient for a persistent case of ague (malaria) decided to try the fashionable galvanic therapy.  This entailed a regular course of electric shocks administered to … Continue reading Catching a disease through an electric wire

In event of drowning, blow smoke up bottom

Samuel Auguste André David Tissot was an eminent Swiss physician of the eighteenth century, best known as the author of one of the first scholarly studies of migraine, and for his much-cited work on the evils of masturbation, L’Onanisme. In 1761 he published Avis au Peuple sur sa Santé, a little book aimed at the … Continue reading In event of drowning, blow smoke up bottom

A bad use for good wine

This promising headline appeared in an issue of the Philosophical Transactions published in 1755.  ‘Success’ is an interesting choice of word, since all the patients died, some within a matter of hours.  One wonders what ‘failure’ might have looked like. Early medical writers made frequent reference to a condition they called dropsy.  By this they … Continue reading A bad use for good wine

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?