Caesarean section is now the most commonly performed major operation in many parts of the world. A study published in The Lancet a few months ago estimated that around 30 million caesareans take place worldwide every year; in the UK over a quarter of babies are now born by caesarean, some 175,000 per year.
References to the operation go back … Read more
Many medicines prescribed by physicians of the past were chemicals now known to be highly toxic. Mercury, arsenic and antimony were among the harmful substances regularly administered for a variety of conditions. In this case, published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1759, a young boy was apparently cured by another chemical now known to be hazardous to health – but … Read more
I recently learned a medical term I hadn’t heard before: ‘true knot’, meaning a knot that forms in the umbilical cord during pregnancy. Foetuses move around a lot inside the amniotic sac, and if the umbilical cord is long it is quite possible for it to loop and form knots – sometimes two or more. (There is also something called … Read more
You may be familiar with this dramatic photo, which has been doing the rounds recently on social media (mainly thanks to Lindsey Fitzharris – @drlindseyfitz on Twitter – if you’re not following her, you should be)
It shows Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov, a Soviet doctor who in 1961, while stranded at an Antarctic research station, succeeded in taking out his own … Read more
The eighteenth-century surgeon William Boys, although a distinguished clinician and Fellow of the Royal Society, was perhaps better known as an antiquary and historian of his home county of Kent. Among his published works is an account of the Luxborough Galley, a notorious shipwreck in which the few survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive – one of … Read more
This strange little tale appeared in various literary and medical journals in 1806. This version is taken from The Medical and Physical Journal, which appears to have been one of the first to publish it. It is a salacious snippet rather than a case report, and some contemporaries read it with scepticism: one leading doctor quoted it in an … Read more
Philipp Franz von Walther was an eminent German surgeon highly regarded for his expertise in ophthalmology and as a pioneer in plastic surgery. While serving as professor at the University of Bonn he was also the co-editor of an influential periodical, the Journal der Chirurgie und Augenheilkunde. In 1822 he published this surprising clinical report, which was subsequently translated (and, … Read more
Cases of unusual foreign objects can make entertaining reading, though often for the ‘wrong’ reasons. The medical literature is full of tales of bizarre items inserted in orifices where they weren’t meant to go, but such stories seldom add much to the sum of human knowledge – except perhaps provide yet more evidence of our capacity for folly.
This example … Read more
Here’s an intriguing snippet reported by the Paris correspondent of the Lancet in September 1882:
We have now a patient in the Lariboisiere Hospital who has been operated on by Dr. Felizet for the removal of a spoon from the stomach. The patient was a waiter at a café who in a frolic accidentally swallowed a spoon. It was a … Read more
This fascinating case report was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1701, contributed by a distinguished Dublin physician, Thomas Molyneux. It is notable both for the unusual nature of the injury, and for the remarkably sophisticated surgery that followed.
Dorcas Blake, a full-bodied sanguine maid, of about twenty years old…
Ms Blake was ‘sanguine’ in a particular medical sense. Since … Read more