Death by barley

Death from a portion of barley beard under the tongueNineteenth-century medical journals are not short of ghastly occupational injuries. Factories, building sites and the new railways were frightening places, and there is barely an issue of a major journal that does not contain at least one article about terrible accidents caused by inadequate safety arrangements in the workplace. But this example, published in the Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal Read more

An X-ray vision

I am not madIn December 1863 a New York physician, Samuel Ward Francis, sat down to write a letter to The Medical and Surgical Reporter. The medical achievements of Dr Francis – whatever they may have been – are forgotten today, but his work as an indefatigable amateur inventor lives on in the records of the US Patent Office.  I’ve collected several … Read more

A chainsaw to the spine

injuries of the spineIn the early nineteenth century surgery was a primitive affair, generally limited to a few commonly performed operations. Most people know about agonising amputations, or the (possibly even more agonising) operations for bladder stones and mastectomy; others in the surgeon’s repertoire included basic procedures to remove cataracts or to release pressure in the skull. But here’s a truly astonishing case … Read more

Spirits go straight to your head

phenomena of the more advanced stages of intoxicationI recently stumbled across this intriguing snippet in John Cooke’s A Treatise on Nervous Diseases (1824):

I am informed by Mr. Carlisle, that “a few years since a man was brought dead into the Westminster Hospital who had just drunk a quart of gin for a wager. The evidences of death being quite conclusive, he was immediately examined; and within Read more

Broken glass and boiled cabbage

Here’s a case reported in the London Medical Gazette in 1839 which we must file under ‘unbelievably stupid things done by young men’. It comes originally from a book published in 1787 by Antoine Portal, a distinguished physician who was personal doctor to Louis XVIII, and the founder of the French Royal Academy of Medicine. He recalls:

I saw Read more

The eye fungus

Fungus haematodes of the eyeballMy headline is somewhat misleading, for the ‘fungus’ referred to in today’s article, published in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal in 1823, has nothing to do with mushrooms. It’s a word which until the late nineteenth century was sometimes applied to certain forms of tumour. And in case you’re thinking that a story about eye cancer doesn’t sound much … Read more

The man who peed a bullet

Case of gunshot woundGunshot wounds have always been a particular challenge for the medic. Some of the oldest surgical manuals contain advice on removing balls or bullets lodged superficially – it was often possible to remove missiles from soft tissue or bone near the skin. But if they had penetrated deeper into body cavities or damaged internal organs they posed an altogether more … Read more

Cart to heart

On wounds of the heartIn 1837 the Dublin Medical Journal published a short article by a Dr Lees entitled, simply, ‘Wounds of the Heart’. According to popular belief at the time, injuries to the heart were inevitably fatal, and often instantaneously. Many doctors still subscribed to this notion, but there was a growing body of evidence to the contrary. Dr Lees collected a number … Read more