Nineteenth-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
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
Tetanus is a bacterial infection usually contracted through a skin wound – in the days before a vaccine was widely available, cases were fairly common and could follow something as trivial as pricking a finger on a thorn. Before the twentieth century physicians had few therapeutic options. But in 1798 a doctor from New York found a novel way to … Read more
On September 22nd 1846, Dr James Tunstall of Bath wrote to Sir Charles Napier, the Governor of Scinde (then part of the Raj; now Sindh Province in Pakistan). The province had been suffering from an epidemic of cholera, and Dr Tunstall believed he could help:
Sir -The alarming fatality that has attended the progress of the cholera morbus in … Read more
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. It is a loss of … Read more
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 the patient’s body.
The … Read more
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 general public and … Read more
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 meant a swelling caused by … Read more
Dr G.G. Brown of Bath writes to the Annals of Medicine in 1799:
If you have a vacant page in your Annals of Medicine for the present year, may I request you will, for the benefit of unfortunate individuals, insert the following simple method of cure in the apoplexia mentalis, or delirium fine febre.
Dr Brown believes he has struck … Read more
Mercury has a long history as a therapeutic drug. Used by Arab doctors in the Middle Ages to treat skin disorders, it became the most popular treatment for venereal disease after the major outbreak of syphilis (thought by some to have been brought back from the New World by Columbus’s crew) in the late fifteenth century.
Until the nineteenth century … Read more