Dead or alive at will

In 1733 a book about depression and mental health was published in Dublin: The English Malady; or, A Treatise of Nervous Diseases of All Kinds, as Spleen, Vapours, Lowness of Spirits, Hypochondriacal and Hysterical Distemper. The author, George Cheyne – born a Scot, though he moved to London – was convinced that the English were … Continue reading Dead or alive at will

The seven-foot tumour

This brief case report is a reminder that there are certain medical horrors which were once commonplace but which are never seen today in the developed world. Untreatable conditions would progress unhindered, often resulting in terrible deformity. Tumours could reach a size almost unimaginable to the modern mind – although in developing countries such cases … Continue reading The seven-foot tumour

Unfortunate injury of the decade

Here’s a story published 150 years ago in the British Medical Journal which made me wince on at least four separate occasions. At a seminar at the Liverpool Medical Institution in January 1863, the cases presented for discussion included the following: Dr. Nottingham brought forward a case of extraordinary wound of the penis. He said … Continue reading Unfortunate injury of the decade

Don’t mess with an electric eel

Few creatures have provided such enduring fascination to the medical profession as the electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), a creature capable of delivering an electric shock of up to 850 volts (and 1 amp) on demand.  Though remarkable, they are not unique: several other species of electric fish are known, including the electric catfish found in the … Continue reading Don’t mess with an electric eel

Impaled on a stake

How about this for a lucky escape?  It’s the sort of grisly farm accident which might be featured in a medical documentary like 24 Hours in A&E, with one significant difference. Anybody unlucky enough to be impaled by a stake today could expect major surgery and a lengthy hospital stay – but this patient made … Continue reading Impaled on a stake

Sober up the nineteenth-century way

As Christmas celebrations fade away and battered livers dubiously await the assault of New Year’s Eve, now is a good time to consider one of medicine’s oldest questions: how to counteract the effects of alcohol. Nineteenth-century medical writers seem to have been more concerned with prevention than cure: journal articles say little about curing a … Continue reading Sober up the nineteenth-century way

A Victorian hospital Christmas

As a seasonal antidote to all the misery and medical disasters usually documented on this blog, here is something genuinely heart-warming. The Victorians were particularly good at Christmas – they invented most of the domestic Christmas traditions we enjoy today, from the meal to the tree.  A story published in the British Medical Journal in … Continue reading A Victorian hospital Christmas

The hidden dangers of a Victorian Christmas

In the last (I promise) of my trilogy of Christmas disasters, here is a warning of the dangers of festive decorations. This Christmas tree-related incident from 1849 was documented in The Household Narrative, the almanac published by Charles Dickens between 1850 and 1855.  In the section tastefully entitled ‘Accident and Disaster’, Dickens reports the following … Continue reading The hidden dangers of a Victorian Christmas

The perils of the Christmas pudding

Continuing this blog’s recent Christmas theme, here’s a short article originally printed in the Medical Adviser in 1825.  It was at about this time that one of the staples of the modern Christmas dinner – the Christmas pudding – began to be a regular feature of festive meals. More usually referred to as a plum … Continue reading The perils of the Christmas pudding