In his textbook The Principles of Surgery (1801) the Scottish surgeon John Bell emphasised the importance of speed when operating to remove bladder stones, condemning
those long and murderous operations, where the surgeon labours for an hour in extracting the stone, to the inevitable destruction of the patient.
That quotation appears as a footnote underneath the dramatic headline of an … Read more
Richard Elkanah Hoyle was not a famous surgeon. He never invented a new operation, or contributed to a medical journal, or belonged to a learned society. But he was responsible for one of the most unusual tales you’ll ever hear.
In May 1845 a local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Chronicle, reported a mystery:
An intense sensation has been created in … Read more
The American Michael DeBakey was one of the giants of twentieth-century surgery. His extraordinary career spanned eight decades, beginning in the 1930s and ending only with his death at the age of 99 in 2008. He is best known today as a pioneering cardiac surgeon, but in the early 1950s he and his then colleague Denton Cooley also revolutionised the … Read more
‘First, do no harm.’
You may be familiar with this aphorism, which in the last hundred years or so has become the unofficial motto of medical ethics. Almost all young doctors will hear the phrase at an early stage of their training – a useful encapsulation of a central tenet of medicine, that the physician (or surgeon) should consider the … Read more
Just a quick update on a few exciting developments. My new book The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth will be on sale very soon. It’s a collection of my favourite medical curiosities, including some of the hilarious, bizarre or otherwise notable stories featured on this blog – many of them revised and expanded, and with a number of illustrations reproduced … Read more
Things have been rather quiet on this blog in recent weeks, so apologies if you’ve been missing your regular fix of wince-inducing medical history. I’ve been busy working on a book which will be published in a few months’ time. The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth (and other curiosities from the history of medicine) brings together around 70 of the … Read more
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
In the 1820s the British physician John Cheyne made a special study of the numerous ways in which soldiers tried to get themselves invalided out of service. Cheyne is best known today as one of the first to identify Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a pattern of disordered breathing which is a useful diagnostic sign in identifying several conditions. He moved to … Read more
The horrors of nineteenth-century medicine will return to this blog tomorrow, but here’s a brief intermezzo:
The Guardian recently printed a long extract from The Matter of the Heart, my new book about the history of heart surgery. It’s an abbreviated version of the book’s final chapter, which looks at some of the cutting-edge technology used by today’s … Read more
A brief diversion from normal service on this blog for a gratuitous advertisement: today is publication day for my book The Matter of the Heart, the culmination of two years’ work. As well as spending innumerable hours in libraries reading medical papers, I had the great privilege of talking to cardiac specialists and even watching them as they performed … Read more