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

The winged ones: insects in the stomach

In 1824 the Transactions of the Association of Fellows and Licentiates of the King and Queen’s College of Physicians in Ireland reported an extraordinary case which would continue to be quoted in the medical literature for many decades.  The case was reported in a paper whose lengthy title was abbreviated to the rather snappier ‘Dr … Continue reading The winged ones: insects in the stomach

Leeches: for external and internal use

If there’s one thing that everybody knows about early medicine, it’s the fact that doctors loved to use leeches.  Attaching a leech, or even dozens of them, to remove a small amount of blood from a diseased part of the body was a favourite remedy for the best part of 2000 years – and was … Continue reading Leeches: for external and internal use

Brain of hare and turd of dog

Digging around in an 1851 edition of The Monthly Journal of Medical Science, I stumbled across a long and rather dry article about Roman medicine by a Dr Simpson, professor of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh.  His narrative is enlivened by a list of bizarre remedies favoured by Roman doctors.  He then points out … Continue reading Brain of hare and turd of dog

Wrapped in a dead sheep

One of the difficulties of surgery, even today, is keeping the patient’s body temperature at a safe level.  Core temperatures can drop quite dramatically when a large incision has been made, and although it is theoretically possible to keep the patient warm by making the operating theatre hotter, in practice this makes conditions intolerable for the … Continue reading Wrapped in a dead sheep

A fright for sore eyes

Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes.  Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers.  In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the … Continue reading A fright for sore eyes