In 1842 a Scottish doctor, Edward Binns, published a fat volume under the snappy title The Anatomy of Sleep; or, the Art of Procuring Sound and Refreshing Slumber at Will. It’s a big book, with big ambitions: Dr Binns claims to be able to teach his readers a universally successful method which will reliably put even the confirmed insomniac … Read more
Month: November 2015
Nothing to worry about
In 1833 the London Medical and Surgical Journal caused a bit of a stink with an article which was given the headline ‘Bad Effects of Smoking Tobacco’. Its controversial thesis was that smoking was, well, not very good for you:
The practice of smoking is now so general, that our atmosphere is strongly poisoned with of tobacco-smoke. The air is … Read more
Today’s likely tale comes from the Canada Medical Journal, where it appeared in 1870. Dr Chagnon from the wonderfully-named St Pie in Quebec submitted this curiosity, with tongue firmly in cheek:
In July, 1868, came to my office a woman with the following history: Two days previous, during a thunder storm, she, according to her own expression, swallowed the … Read more
Bleeding you well
More from Lorenz Heister’s surgical textbook Chirurgie, published in 1718, on which I have written before. The practice of bloodletting, also known as phlebotomy, was a staple treatment for millennia and still had influential advocates at the end of the nineteenth century. Most people will be aware that doctors used to bleed their patients, but fewer will be … Read more
In praise of temperance
It seems appropriate on a Friday to share this warning about the dangers of binge drinking, from William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine. Published in 1808, and aimed at the patient rather than the doctor, this book offers advice on treating the commonest ailments, as well as such matters as clothing, diet and personal hygiene.
Dr Buchan was evidently no fan … Read more
HMS Grampus, a battleship launched in 1802, ended her days as a hospital ship moored off Greenwich. Between 1816 and 1831, when she was replaced by another retired naval ship – HMS Dreadnought – a steady stream of naval patients was treated on board. In 1821 the ship was taken over by the Seamen’s Hospital Society, making HMS Grampus … Read more
Scarification is a medical practice which was popular until the early nineteenth century and which thankfully has now been consigned to the history books (and blogs). In concept similar to – but less dramatic than – bleeding, it entailed using a rough implement or blade to make abrasions on the surface of the body. In theory it allowed the evacuation … Read more
The owl-eyed girl
Mr J.S. Webster, a surgeon from East Dereham, wrote to the London Medical Journal in 1787 to pass on an unusual case he had encountered in his practice among the poor and needy of Norfolk.
Helen Bunnett, or, as she is commonly called, the owl-eyed girl, is thirteen years old, of a fair complexion, with brown hair, and has … Read more
Medicine or marinade?
Early nineteenth-century doctors had some funny ideas about treating infectious disease. Before the discovery of microbes, next to nothing was known about what caused infections, or how to cure them. For many years, physicians believed that stimulating the outer surfaces of the body would have an effect. Several methods of doing so were employed: cupping, in which partially-evacuated glasses were … Read more
Trouble at t’mill
Last week I revealed the dangers of working in the mirror manufacturing trade in 19th-century Bohemia. Here’s another tale of occupational peril, published in The Western Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences in 1833.
Mr. J., about twelve weeks since, while standing near the end of the arbor of a heavy grindstone revolving rapidly by water power, … Read more