This brief case report is a reminder that there are certain medical horrors which were once commonplace but which are never seen today in the developed world. Untreatable conditions would progress unhindered, often resulting in terrible deformity. Tumours could reach a size almost unimaginable to the modern mind – although in developing countries such cases do, sadly, still arise.
This case, exceptional for any era, comes from the Medical Essays and Observations, a compilation of papers published by the Royal Academy of Sciences between 1699 and 1750.
A woman at Lugon aged about 36, carried a tumour for 13 years, which filled the whole capacity of the abdomen, and by degrees became 7 foot 10 inches in circumference; she died of it.
This will be a surprise to nobody.
Upon opening her, the skin of the abdomen was an inch and a half thick, while the muscles lost one half of their natural thickness; when the peritoneum was laid open, the womb appeared monstrously distended; when it was taken out, it weighed 44 pounds; it was partly scirrhous [fibrous], and partly soft.
The local doctor pondered the possible causes of such a ghastly affliction. And came up with a truly ridiculous explanation.
M. Baron, Phisician at Lugon, attributes this monstrous tumor to this woman’s imprudence when a girl, in washing her feet in cold water, when her menses were on her, and folly of her parents, who would not let her use the proper means to recal [warm] them at the time; when they applied to him after, it was then too late.