Half man, half snake

Until the late nineteenth century, many people remained convinced that emotional experiences during pregnancy could have major psychological or even physical effects on the unborn child.  An 1839 edition of an American periodical, The Family Magazine, contains an extreme example, a young man called Robert H. Copeland who exhibited himself at freak-shows and county fairs: … Continue reading Half man, half snake

Difficulty getting it down

Here’s a painful tale from The Journal of Foreign Medical Science and Literature, published in 1823: not for children or the squeamish – and likely to make men in particular wince. On March 17th 1822 Thomas Calloway, a London surgeon, was asked to visit a ‘healthy, muscular’ man aged 44: On Saturday night, the 8th … Continue reading Difficulty getting it down

The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

Until fairly recently, tonsillectomy was quite a common procedure – and for many children their first experience of surgery.  Because it’s a straightforward operation, doctors would often recommend that children had their tonsils out even if they had had only a few minor bouts of tonsillitis.  It was even used as a precautionary measure: many … Continue reading The twelve-hour tonsillectomy

“Catch anything, darling?” “Only Granny”

The New-Orleans Medical Journal for 1844 contains this tale of a lucky escape, an ingenious doctor and a very naughty grandson: In the summer of 1837. Mrs. * * * was enjoying her usual siesta, in the afternoon of a warm day, on a pallet spread upon the floor in a cool part of the … Continue reading “Catch anything, darling?” “Only Granny”

On leeches, and how to catch them

Leeches were one of the most commonly prescribed medical treatments until the late nineteenth century.  They were a convenient way of taking blood from a patient in days when this was believed a beneficial procedure, and 20 or 30 were often applied at a time:  in one case a woman with bowel problems had no fewer than 400 … Continue reading On leeches, and how to catch them

John Keats: Ode to a Black Eye

On the first day of the Ashes Test at Lord’s, here is a cricketing curiosity – a Romantic poet picking up an injury in the winter nets.  And evidence that the team physio of the early 19th century always kept the leeches handy. On Sunday 14th February, 1819, the poet John Keats sat down to write … Continue reading John Keats: Ode to a Black Eye

The hearing-aid chair

John Harrison Curtis was a prominent nineteenth-century specialist in diseases of the eyes and ears who became an intimate of the royal family.  He was also, according to some, a quack.  The sixth edition of his medical bestseller, A Treatise on the Physiology and Pathology of the Ear (1836) contains this ingenious invention: This chair … Continue reading The hearing-aid chair

Your cooker will give you typhoid

There’s a menace lurking in your kitchen.  From The Lancet, 1868: When the attention of the Academy of Sciences of Paris was drawn, some time since, by M. Carret, one of the physicians of the Hotel Dieu of Chambery, in several papers, to the possible evil consequences of the use of cast-iron stoves, but little … Continue reading Your cooker will give you typhoid