Portrait of a quack

In 1804 The Medical and Physical Journal decided to name and shame some of London’s most notorious quacks.  One of the unscrupulous practitioners exposed to public humiliation was a certain Dr Day: He was born in  Holland, though of German parents, of the name of Dies, which the Doctor has translated into the English synonym … Continue reading Portrait of a quack

Medical qualifications: optional

Here’s a report of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey from a little over a century ago which truly made me grateful for modern medicine – and in particular for the modern regulation of the profession.  In this case a doctor without any qualifications escaped with a slap on the wrist, despite having killed a … Continue reading Medical qualifications: optional

The self-inflicted lithotomy

The output of the French baroque composer Marin Marais contains an oddity: a musical depiction of a surgical operation.  A piece from the fifth book of his Pieces de Viole is entitled Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (Portrait of an Abdominal Operation – you can listen to it here), and is an attempt … Continue reading The self-inflicted lithotomy

Chess and phrenology

In 1841 The Dublin Journal of Medical Science printed a short report of a meeting which had taken place earlier that year in London.  It begins with a sarcastic little disclaimer: We are not quite satisfied that the subjoined paragraph, taken from a weekly London paper, contains a correct account of Dr. Elliotson’s Phrenological Lecture … Continue reading Chess and phrenology

Do no harm – unless it’s a criminal

In 1875 the British Medical Journal had some fun digging around in the archives: BARBAROUS PUNISHMENT: A SURGEON’S OCCUPATION. – 1720, March 29th. On Wednesday, Thomas Hayes, formerly the commander of a merchantman, stood in the pillory at Charing Cross, for the hour of twelve to one, when a surgeon, attended by the prison officers, … Continue reading Do no harm – unless it’s a criminal

A 19th-century doctor’s guide to etiquette

In the nineteenth century the medical profession had something of an image problem.  The archetype of the pompous or unscrupulous doctor was well established, and authors like Charles Dickens had much fun sending them up with satirical depictions which were painfully close to the mark.  In The Pickwick Papers, the young doctor Bob Sawyer uses … Continue reading A 19th-century doctor’s guide to etiquette

Such is the fortitude of females

Rhinoplasty is one of the oldest surgical operations, known to have been practised by the Indian surgeon Sushruta in the 1st millennium BC, and with great sophistication in the 17th century by the Italian physician Gaspare Tagliacozzi, who created new noses from the muscles of the upper arm. This case reported in the 1830s in … Continue reading Such is the fortitude of females

The cod-liver oil binge

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterised by a skin rash, joint pain and fatigue.  Although poorly understood even today, it is known to be caused by an anomalous response of the body’s immune system, which erroneously begins to attack otherwise healthy tissue. In 1852, when the Canada Medical Journal reported this case, the condition was … Continue reading The cod-liver oil binge

The self-performed caesarian

A jaw-dropping case was reported in The New York Medical and Physical Journal in 1823, one in which a patient conducted an operation on herself.  The best-known example of self-operation occurred in 1961, when a Soviet surgeon working on an Antarctic base was forced to take out his own infected appendix; this much earlier case … Continue reading The self-performed caesarian