Falling pregnant

The seventeenth-century French surgeon François Mauriceau was one of the founders of modern obstetrics. Over several decades he studied every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth and the health of newborn babies, attempting to put the discipline on a new theoretically sound and anatomically-informed basis. His masterpiece, published in 1668, is the treatise Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchées (‘Diseases of … Read more

An arrow escape

In 1871 the Surgeon-General’s office of the US Government published a document identified simply as Circular no 3. The dull bureaucratic title gives little hint of the varied material within: a comprehensive survey of surgical activity in the US Army during the preceding six years. As one London medical journal noted, the book gives some idea of the extraordinary range … Read more

Fifty years ahead of his time

I’m writing this post on the 122nd anniversary of the first attempt at heart surgery, which took place in Norway on September 4th 1895. The surgeon, Axel Cappelen, opened the chest of a man who had been stabbed, and sutured his lacerated heart muscle. The procedure went smoothly, but the man died a few days later from infection … Read more

Not getting his hands dirty

If you haven’t been watching the BBC2 comedy Quacks, you’re missing a treat. It’s set in the world of mid-Victorian medicine, an era when the discipline was beginning its dramatic metamorphosis into a rigorous science. Anaesthesia had just arrived on the scene, and a younger generation of surgeons and physicians was eager to discard outmoded thinking and replace it … Read more

A span in length

portion of colon hanging out through a woundMore strange news from the Philosophical Transactions, the venerable journal of the Royal Society. This brief report was contributed in 1720 by Abraham Vater, a German anatomist who was a particular authority on the digestive tract (the ampulla of Vater, a structure at the meeting of the common bile duct and pancreatic duct, is named after him). It’s quite … Read more