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

Opium – perfect for babies

In 1849 Mrs Charlotte Winslow of Bangor in Maine invented a medicinal product for children which was as successful in its day as Calpol is now.  Any comparison must, however, end there. ‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’ was marketed as an effective analgesic, to be given to teething infants and older children with indigestion.  A contemporary advertisement … Continue reading Opium – perfect for babies

Fingers crossed

A short but – to me – fascinating article from the Medico-Chirurgical Review. Surgeons are now quite adept at reattaching fingers, toes or even entire hands after cases of accidental amputation, assuming the separated part has been carefully preserved: celebrated cases include Arsenio Matias, who had both hands reattached after an industrial accident, and Everett Knowles, … Continue reading Fingers crossed

All’s well that ends well

A grisly tale, but one with a happy ending: John Nedham wrote to the Philosophical Transactions in 1756 with news of a road traffic accident and its consequences: On the 3d of January 1755, Mr. N. was called to the son of Lancelot Watts (a day-labourer, living at Brunsted) a servant boy to Mr. Pile, a farmer at Westwick, near North-Walsham, Norfolk, aged 13 years. He was overturned … Continue reading All’s well that ends well

It makes you go blind, you know

Nineteenth-century medical journals were much preoccupied with the sin of self-harm.  One authority on mental illnesses even suggested that masturbation was the leading cause of insanity in asylum patients.  An edition of the Canada Medical Journal published in 1870 contains a typical report: Case 1st: J.C., aged 18. Was called to see him in the fall … Continue reading It makes you go blind, you know

Mummies and rhubarb

I recently wrote about the horrifying animal remedies which one could buy in a London apothecary’s shop in the seventeenth century.  These were far from being the most disgusting products on sale in these emporia.  Apothecaries also traded in various human substances.  There’s a useful catalogue in Robert James’s 1747 edition of the London Pharmacopoeia: Homo, Man, … Continue reading Mummies and rhubarb

The dreadful mortification

A case published in The Medical Museum of 1781 is a reminder of a world we have gratefully left behind; one in which infection could rapidly maim or kill entire families, while doctors looked on helplessly.  Life could be, in Thomas Hobbes’s phrase, ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.  Hobbes was writing about war, but … Continue reading The dreadful mortification