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

Why children should never wear hats

I recently came across a charming little medical book aimed at children, and first published in Germany in the 18th century. Its author, Bernhard Christoph Faust, was personal physician to an obscure German nobleman, the Count of Schaumburg-Lippe in lower Saxony. In 1792 he published Catechism of Health, a short work which uses the question-and-answer … Continue reading Why children should never wear hats

Busted! A medical plagiarist exposed

The index for Volume 5 of The Lancet, published in 1824, contains this intriguing entry: Indexes are not often used to pursue feuds, but the story behind this entry was a bitter rivalry which lasted for several years.  So who was ‘Simon Pure’, and why had he aroused the wrath of the editor of The … Continue reading Busted! A medical plagiarist exposed

A painful way to ‘cure’ a stammer

On April 1st 1841 Thomas Young, a labourer at a forge, walked into the Metropolitan Free Hospital in London and asked to be cured of his stutter.  Now aged 21, he had been unable to articulate clearly since early childhood.  Dr Bennet Lucas, who examined him, noted that when he attempts to pronounce any word, … Continue reading A painful way to ‘cure’ a stammer

A dissertation on pus

In 1785 the great English surgeon John Hunter and his Scottish colleague George Fordyce set up a medical society, the Lyceum Medicum Londinense.  Its members met every fortnight in Hunter’s anatomical theatre, and the rules were fearsome: attendance was compulsory, every member present was obliged to present a paper, and there were fines for arriving … Continue reading A dissertation on pus

Centipedes in your bacon

Some truly bizarre goings-on were reported at the Exeter meeting of the Provincial Surgical and Medical Association in 1842.  A Dr Davis, of Presteign, made this report: A boy, fifteen years of age, the son of a labourer named Griffiths, living in the village of Bucknill, near Knighton, had for some months complained of pain … Continue reading Centipedes in your bacon