The human pincushion

This extraordinary tale appeared in The Medico-Chirurgical Review in 1825: Rachel Hertz had lived in the enjoyment of good health up to her fourteenth year; she was then of a fair complexion, and rather of the sanguineous temperament. In August 1807, she was seized with a violent attack of cholic, which induced her to apply to … Continue reading The human pincushion

Cycling will give you heart disease

March 1895, and in the pages of The Lancet, Dr George Herschell is worried.  Very worried. Cycling, rationally pursued, is one of the most health-giving forms of amusement; but when indulged in to excess, or under improper conditions, one of the most pernicious. I have been led to choose this subject for my paper from … Continue reading Cycling will give you heart disease

Wine, the great healer

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 … Continue reading Wine, the great healer

Anaesthesia for lions (and bears)

The Canada Medical Journal for 1870 has news from the Raj: We mentioned the other day the severe injury sustained by one of the young lions at the park from a mauling of its tail by one of the tigers in the adjoining compartment. At first there was reason to believe that no dangerous results would follow, but … Continue reading Anaesthesia for lions (and bears)

The guillotine – life after death?

In 1799, as the French Revolution entered its final phase and Napoleon prepared to seize power, European medics engaged in a pertinent debate.  The Medical and Physical Journal reports: Among other singular questions lately agitated in France and Germany, the following is not the least curious: Whether the separated head of a person suffering on the … Continue reading The guillotine – life after death?

The woman who could smell with her feet

News of a curious case reaches London from France: Mademoiselle Melanie had enjoyed good health up to the age of twenty-one, when she began to suffer from dry cough, with pain in the chest and headache; in January, 1841, she was attacked by pleurisy of the right side, and since then has continued to suffer … Continue reading The woman who could smell with her feet

Spiders in her eyes

A previous post about the boy who vomited millipedes proved surprisingly popular – so when I came across this tale of a girl who cried spiders it seemed too good to waste. On February 5th 1840, Dr Lopez, a physician from Mobile, Alabama, visited a young woman in Charleston.  The previous week she had been staying with … Continue reading Spiders in her eyes

Breaking news: swallowing knives is bad for you

Compulsive swallowers have always featured heavily in medical literature.  There are numerous cases in 19th-century journals – but most of the individuals concerned were obviously suffering from some kind of mental illness.  This, from the Medico-Chirurgical Transactions for 1823, is the first I’ve come across in which the patient was swallowing knives for a laugh. In … Continue reading Breaking news: swallowing knives is bad for you

The petrol cocktail: a cure for cholera

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 … Continue reading The petrol cocktail: a cure for cholera

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