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?

The man who fought a duel in his sleep

If you’ve ever shared a house with a habitual sleepwalker, you may be familiar with the strange experience of having a conversation at 2 am with somebody who is fast asleep.  One of my sisters went through a sleepwalking phase in childhood, and we soon became used to guiding her back to her bedroom, while … Continue reading The man who fought a duel in his sleep

Give that man a medal

On June 29th 1865 Jacques Roellinger, a private in ‘B’ Company of the New York Volunteers, asked to be released from military service.  When he appeared before an army board to make his case for a pension, he told the officers that three years earlier, in the early stages of the Civil War, he had … Continue reading Give that man a medal

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

The worm: a horror story

Sometimes in early medical journals a case history begins conventionally enough, before turning into something startlingly unexpected.  This is from Medical Essays and Observations, 1782: In February last a young Man was wounded in a Duel with a small Sword, which entred about four Inches below the right Nipple, and a little towards the Back; … Continue reading The worm: a horror story

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

Fishing line and marine sponges: the operating theatre of 1888

In 1888 the great American surgeon Rudolph Matas saved the life of a patient who had been shot in the arm.  The operation was a significant moment in the evolution of vascular surgery, since it introduced an entirely new technique for dealing with aneurysm – a condition in which an artery wall is weakened and … Continue reading Fishing line and marine sponges: the operating theatre of 1888

That’s one way to give up smoking

The museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, in Dublin, contains the picture of a man whose face was eaten away by a pig, while he was lying in a state of intoxication.  The entire nose, both cheeks, and parts of both ears, in fact, all the most eatable parts of his face, were chewed off … Continue reading That’s one way to give up smoking

Dear oh dear

In 1829 a fifty-year-old labourer, John Marsh, was knocked down and run over by a cart laden with bricks.  He was conveyed to Winchester County Hospital, where the doctor who examined him recorded that his scrotum, on inspection, was found to be of most enormous size, extending two thirds downwards between the thighs, and measuring … Continue reading Dear oh dear