He sliced his penis in two

This case sounds so implausible that you may start thinking it’s a spoof. I assure you it’s not: I came across it in Alfred Poulet’s Treatise on Foreign Bodies in Surgical Practice (1880), but it originally appeared almost a century earlier in a book by the French surgeon François Chopart. Chopart was a pioneer of … Continue reading He sliced his penis in two

Fifty years ahead of his time

I’m writing this post on the 122nd anniversary of the first attempt at heart surgery, which took place in Norway on September 4th 1895. The surgeon, Axel Cappelen, opened the chest of a man who had been stabbed, and sutured his lacerated heart muscle. The procedure went smoothly, but the man died a few days … Continue reading Fifty years ahead of his time

Not getting his hands dirty

If you haven’t been watching the BBC2 comedy Quacks, you’re missing a treat. It’s set in the world of mid-Victorian medicine, an era when the discipline was beginning its dramatic metamorphosis into a rigorous science. Anaesthesia had just arrived on the scene, and a younger generation of surgeons and physicians was eager to discard outmoded … Continue reading Not getting his hands dirty

A span in length

More strange news from the Philosophical Transactions, the venerable journal of the Royal Society. This brief report was contributed in 1720 by Abraham Vater, a German anatomist who was a particular authority on the digestive tract (the ampulla of Vater, a structure at the meeting of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct, is named … Continue reading A span in length

An unwelcome visitor

A short news item published in 1843 by the Gazette Médicale de Paris contains the sort of case that would give a hypochondriac sleepless nights. It was submitted by Jean Guyon, an eminent military surgeon who spent much of his career studying tropical diseases, in particular yellow fever and cholera. Another of his interests was … Continue reading An unwelcome visitor

The boy who choked on his gold

I came across this interesting story in the Memoirs of the Royal Academy of Surgery at Paris, a collection of cases published in English in 1750. Until I looked into it more thoroughly I didn’t realise that this is not just a curiosity but a genuinely pioneering operation. It was documented in a treatise published … Continue reading The boy who choked on his gold

The colonic carpentry kit

The ‘foreign correspondence’ pages of one 1861 issue of the Medical Times contain an eclectic selection of stories. The first concerns the ‘sucking apparatus of infants’ (i.e., babies’ mouths). But the following case was the one that caught my eye – headlined Foreign Body in the Transverse Colon: A very curious case of this affection … Continue reading The colonic carpentry kit