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:

the chair

This chair is intended for the benefit Read more

Your cooker will give you typhoid

There’s a menace lurking in your kitchen.  From The Lancet, 1868:

cast iron

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 interest was excited in Read more

The woman who could read with her stomach

Catalepsy

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 unresponsive to pain or … Read more

A bit of a headache

dagger skull

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 to a patient in … Read more

Heart disease? Have you tried using a swing?

We’ve already established that skipping ropes should be avoided at all costs, but it’s not all bad news for those who enjoy childish pursuits.

James Wardrop’s On the Nature and Treatment of the Diseases of the Heart (1831), written in an age when most forms of cardiac disease were essentially untreatable, contains some advice which reflects the frustration felt … Read more

The man who fought a duel in his sleep

somnambulismIf you’ve ever shared a house with a habitual sleepwalker, you may be familiar with the strange experience of having a conversation at 2 am with somebody who is fast asleep.  One of my sisters went through a sleepwalking phase in childhood, and we soon became used to guiding her back to her bedroom, while saving the weirdest of her … Read more

Hemlock and millipedes

In September 1762 Ann James, a fifty-five-year-old woman from Boughton Monchelsea in Kent, came to the attention of Josiah Colebroke, FRS.  For some years she had been in chronic pain:

She complained of most excruciating stabbing pains in both breasts, which prevented her having any rest in the night, and made her so very miserable all day, whether she lay Read more

The worm: a horror story

Sometimes in early medical journals a case history begins conventionally enough, before turning into something startlingly unexpected.  This is from Medical Essays and Observations, 1782:

In February last a young Man was wounded in a Duel with a small Sword, which entred about four Inches below the right Nipple, and a little towards the Back; by probing the Wound, Read more