In my last post I wrote about an impressive operation performed in 1888 by the American surgeon George Ryerson Fowler, who successfully removed two bullets from a patient’s brain. Shortly after publishing that story I came across another of Fowler’s cases which, although not well known, deserves a place in the history books. It represented a significant milestone in … Read more
Category: Primitive equipment
Under the skin
There’s a good chance that you’ll be at the sharp end of a hypodermic needle over the next few months – at least, I hope you will. The various Covid-19 vaccines are finally reaching the people who need them most: 1,296,432 doses had been administered in the UK by the first week of January. Assuming the entire population receives … Read more
A triumph of surgery
In June 1898, British newspapers reported an exciting medical story under the headline ‘Triumph in Surgery’. Their source was a case history published in that week’s edition of The Lancet. The author, Dr William Brown of Chester-le-Street, County Durham, was not a well-known figure; but for a few days, at least, he enjoyed a reputation as a pioneering surgeon.… Read more
The child who swallowed a pin
The eighteenth-century surgeon William Boys, although a distinguished clinician and Fellow of the Royal Society, was perhaps better known as an antiquary and historian of his home county of Kent. Among his published works is an account of the Luxborough Galley, a notorious shipwreck in which the few survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive – one of … Read more
The ear drill
You’ve heard of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut; but what about a drill (or rather two drills) to crack a cherry stone?
That is exactly what took place at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Paris in 1833. The surgeon responsible was the great Guillaume Dupuytren, and his unusual case was reported in the Bulletin General de Therapeutique a … Read more
Plagiarising the past
In 1850 a doctor from New Buckenham in Norfolk, Horace Howard, submitted this short case report to The Lancet:
The patient, Maria N— aged twenty-three years, had experienced for a long time much irritation about the kidneys and urinary apparatus, for which different palliative remedies were administered, but with little relief. The patient was lost sight of for … Read more
The spermatorrhoea alarm
In 1843 the Provincial Medical Journal published a landmark paper by Dr W.H. Ranking from Suffolk. It was a ‘landmark’ in that it was the first full-length publication in English to discuss a new disease that was soon to become the scourge of the male population: spermatorrhoea. Or, in plain English, involuntary ejaculation.
The person who first brought this worrying … Read more
Death of an earl
On a warm August afternoon a man in his fifties is enjoying a game of bowls in the affluent English town of Tunbridge Wells. Suddenly he passes out and falls to the ground, apparently dead. If this scene were unfolding today, an ambulance would probably arrive in a few minutes, and paramedics would attempt resuscitation before whisking the poor man … Read more
The other Horatio Nelson
The Canadian physician Henry Horatio Nelson was born six years after the Battle of Trafalgar, so it does not take much imagination to work out how his parents chose his middle name. Perhaps understandably, he chose to call himself Horace Nelson, a name less likely to cause his patients to smirk.
Although little known today, Horace Nelson was a pioneer … Read more
Nil by mouth
John Hunter was one of the great medics of the eighteenth century. His name lives on today in the Hunterian Museum, a huge collection of anatomical specimens – both human and animal – which he amassed over many years for study and teaching. He was an innovative surgeon whose practice was heavily influenced by the discoveries he made at … Read more