Physician, chemist, writer and revolutionary: Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a remarkable man in a remarkable age. Arguably the greatest physician America had yet produced, he was an early and tireless advocate for vaccination, an authority on epidemic disease and wrote the first American textbook on mental health. He was also controversial: during a dreadful outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia … Read more
Month: January 2016
Dragging his bowels after him
Medics and their journals have always loved a curiosity, however long ago it occurred. This case was reported in the Medical and Surgical Journal in 1871, more than a century after the ghastly events it relates had taken place:
John Stetson, aged thirty-eight, farmer, also accustomed to slaughter cattle, July 19, 1768, in a paroxysm of insanity secreted himself in … Read more
A medical duel
Medical disputes could be dangerous affairs in the old days. Two hundred years ago two physicians settled their differences not in the pages of the medical journals, but by fighting a duel. This arresting story appeared in a January 1828 edition of The London Medical Gazette:
A Duel was fought last Saturday about three o’clock in the afternoon, between … Read more
Fruit, feathers and hair
In 1838 a French specialist in bladder stones, Professor Civiale, wrote a remarkable paper for the Gazette des Hôpitaux in which he recorded the extraordinary variety of objects which he had been asked to remove from the urinary systems of his patients. He relates
a collection of one hundred and sixty-six cases of foreign bodies in the bladder, in which … Read more
Suffocated by a fish
Here’s a ‘news in brief’ item which appeared in the British Medical Journal in 1863, under this headline:A warder of the Bagne at Toulon, has just met his death in the following manner: he was amusing himself, while off duty, with fishing in the dock, when, having caught a fish about seven inches long and two broad, and not … Read more
A dismal tail
We’ve all heard of student pranks that went too far, but this story takes youthful high jinks to a truly excessive, even psychopathic, level. This case was reported by an Italian doctor, Marchetti, in the 17th century*, and documented by the New York surgeon Charles B. Kelsey in his 1882 textbook Diseases of the Rectum and Anus.
Some … Read more
Putting a patient to sleep (without anaesthetic)
Have you ever wondered how patients in the era before anaesthetics were persuaded to undergo excruciatingly painful operations? The answer – fairly obviously – is ‘with great difficulty’. Some brave souls were able to grit their teeth and bear it, and others made things simpler for the surgeon (and themselves) by simply passing out from the pain.
Most difficult to … Read more
A medical old wives’ tale
This story, attributed to the great American physician Benjamin Rush and repeated in a medical journal in 1839, is almost certainly apocryphal – but it has a good punchline.
We are apt to believe a merry companion the happiest fellow in the world, and envy him, perhaps, his light heart and airy spirits; but such men have hours of melancholy, … Read more
The woman who turned to soap
In February 1846 a group of gravediggers in New York had a truly spooky experience when they were asked to disinter a body from a burial ground on the corner of Broadway and Twelfth Street (a site now occupied by a branch of Pret a Manger – make of that what you will).
Their story was reported in the New … Read more
Killed by a cough
In 1734 James Jamieson, a surgeon from Thurso in the Scottish borders reported this case in the Medical Essays and Observations. It began with a common-or-garden accident:
Some Slates falling from the Roof of a House four Storeys high, upon the Head of a Girl about thirteen Years of Age, broke and shattered her Cranium at the Place where … Read more