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

Deafened by a kiss

Loss of hearing from kiss upon the earSome injuries recorded in the medical literature were not the result of some ghastly accident, but had an apparently innocuous cause. Here’s an example from the Archives of Otology, published in 1880. It was reported by Daniel Bennett St. John Roosa, a specialist in diseases of the eye and ear who was one of the founders of the Manhattan … Read more

A leech on the eyeball

Leech to the eyeBloodletting is an inescapable theme of a medical blog set largely in the nineteenth century. Although venesection (opening a vein) was frequently used, for minor complaints the weapon of choice was the leech, which could extract a small amount of blood relatively painlessly. Doctors varied the numbers of leeches applied according to the severity of the complaint – as many … Read more

The mystery of the poisonous neckerchief

poisonous scarfIn 1873 The Medical Times and Register published an unusual case report from one  Joseph G. Richardson, a doctor from Philadelphia:

J. B., a farmer, 74 years old, residing near Darby, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, came under my care in the out-patient department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, January 27, 1873. His neck, face, and head were much swollen, Read more

A nineteenth-century hacking scandal

Rugby and its football

In November 1870 a London surgeon took the unusual step of writing anonymously to The Times to complain about his son’s headmaster. The son in question was a boy at Rugby School, and the letter was headlined ‘Rugby and its Football’:

Sir,–– I use the expression because to my mind the game as it is played at Rugby differs from Read more

The perils of being a writer

An Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons

Having spent most of the last year sitting in seclusion writing and editing my first book, I was amused to come across an essay by the eighteenth-century Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot.  Tissot is perhaps best known today for his work L’Onanisme, the first scholarly examination of masturbation (executive summary: he was not a fan).  In 1769 he published … Read more

Conceived by a bullet

veracious chronicle

There are many cases of supposed virgin births in the early medical literature, but few are as wonderfully unlikely as this one published in The Lancet in early 1875: 

The following rich gynaecological contribution is reported in the columns of the American Medical Weekly for Nov. 7th, 1874, by L. G. Capers, M.D., Vicksburg, Mississippi. On the 12th of May, Read more