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

The woman who could read with her stomach

Catalepsy is a strange condition in which the patient keeps a fixed, rigid posture, even one which looks abnormal and uncomfortable.  The limbs often display waxy rigidity, meaning that it is possible to move them into any position without resistance.  It is a typical feature of a catatonic state – in which patients are apparently … Continue reading The woman who could read with her stomach

A bit of a headache

One of the things that all first-aiders should know is that blades or other penetrating objects should never be removed from a stab wound.  Extraction should only be attempted by medical professionals in appropriate surroundings, since catastrophic blood loss may otherwise occur. Those with a background in emergency medicine would doubtless wince at the treatment given … Continue reading A bit of a headache