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 attached to … Read more
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 to his brother … Read more
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 is intended for the benefit … Read more
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 interest was excited in … Read more
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
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
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
If 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
On June 29th 1865 Jacques Roellinger, a private in ‘B’ Company of the New York Volunteers, asked to be released from military service. When he appeared before an army board to make his case for a pension, he told the officers that three years earlier, in the early stages of the Civil War, he had been present at the … Read more
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