The spider’s web cure

spider's webUntil the nineteenth century, spider’s web was often used as a folk remedy for superficial lacerations. The great tensile strength of spider silk was probably quite effective at holding the edges of a wound together, although doubtless it also brought the risk of infection. Until I came across an article published in The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science in … Read more

The forty-foot tapeworm

Thirty-six foot tapeworm

Medical journals do not often publish articles by undergraduates these days, but an 1847 edition of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal included a short paper by one John D. Twiggs, described simply as a ‘student of medicine’. Mr Twiggs (we cannot call him ‘Dr’) betrays his inexperience in a certain lack of professional scepticism; but he certainly had an … Read more

A festive night in a Victorian emergency department

Sacrifice to BacchusChristmas is always a difficult time of year for practitioners of emergency medicine. In the UK, accident and emergency departments brace themselves for a flood of injuries caused by alcohol; most years there will be at least one newspaper article about drinking culture in the UK and how it is placing intolerable strain on the health service.

It’s always tempting … Read more

Pegged out

Cases in practiceIn 1865 a young eye surgeon from Gloucester, Robert Brudenell Carter, sent a series of case reports for publication in The Ophthalmic Review. Carter was an unusually accomplished individual whose achievements went far beyond

surgery. He performed with distinction as an army surgeon in the Crimea, and his dispatches from the conflict were published in The Times.

Carter … Read more

Shot by a toasting fork

foreign body found in the heart of a boyThis is one of my favourite nineteenth-century cases, which I originally intended to include in my forthcoming book but which didn’t quite make it to the final manuscript. It was written by Dr T. Davis, from the small Worcestershire town of Upton-upon-Severn, and published in the Transactions of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association in 1834:

On Saturday evening, January Read more

A bayonet through the head

Bayonet woundIn June 1809 a French military surgeon, M. Fardeau, read a paper at a meeting of the Société de Médecine de Paris. I can find little information about M. Fardeau, but he evidently served with distinction in the Napoleonic Wars, being rewarded with membership of the Légion d’honneur for his efforts.

During the War of the Fourth Coalition Fardeau accompanied … Read more