At the age of 14, George Ryerson Fowler ran away from his parents’ home in Jamaica and stowed away on a ship to New York. The Civil War had just begun, and Fowler dreamed of joining the Union army as a drummer boy; but after a sleepless night in the rat-infested basement of a derelict house in Manhattan he seems … Read more
Category: Remarkable recoveries
The perils of a sneeze
A few months ago I wrote about the criminal who was lucky to recover after inhaling a fake gold earring. By chance I’ve just come across another case report written by the same Victorian surgeon, Bernard Pitts. Not a well-known figure, principally because he wrote little and shunned publicity. But he seems to have been a very good … Read more
The miller’s daughter
The Medical and Philosophical Commentaries, first published in 1773, was one of the earliest journals intended as a regular digest of the latest in medical scholarship – and the first to survive for any length of time. Its founder Andrew Duncan (the elder) was a professor at the University of Edinburgh, at a time when the city was … Read more
A cautionary tale
This case was reported in the Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital Reports – the in-house journal published by the London hospital of the same name – in 1879. The author of this article, William Steavenson, was a 29-year-old house physician at Barts (as those familiar with the hospital call it). Steavenson’s interests included chronic asthma – from which he had suffered since … Read more
Difficult to swallow
Years ago, many leading hospitals had their own journals, with most or all of the articles produced by the institution’s clinical staff. A couple of American centres (notably the Mayo Clinic) still lend their names to medical journals, but on this side of the Atlantic such in-house publications have largely gone extinct.
This criminal caper was published in the St … Read more
Moulded to the lid
The Victorian surgeon Sir Jonathan Hutchinson was ‘one of the great medical geniuses of his time’, according to his entry in Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows, the biographical reference work curated by the Royal College of Surgeons. Hutchinson had an astonishing range of interests – he was an expert in infectious disease (the world’s leading authority on syphilis), in … Read more
Resuscitated by a Romanov
I came across this case quite by chance, drawn in by a striking headline. But after investigating a little further I was amused to discover that one of those involved was an ancestor of mine.
This story was first published two centuries ago, in the Annual Report of the Royal Humane Society. The humane societies were organisations set up with … Read more
A gallon a day keeps the doctor away
Bloodletting is one of the oldest medical treatments of all, employed for centuries in cultures all over the world. It’s also become a sort of lazy shorthand for the ignorance of our ancestors, the prime example of a useless and harmful technique that doctors persisted in using despite no good evidence for its efficacy.
Although it was largely abandoned as … Read more
The boy with two skulls
My jaw hit the floor – in a metaphorical, not a literal, sense, although the latter circumstance would itself be worthy of an entry on this blog – when I came across this little story. It concerns a case reported by Paul Broca, a French physician who played a key role in the early development of neuroscience, since he … Read more
A pane in the eye
I have reported a few eye-watering tales on this blog in the past, but few stories deserve the epithet quite so literally as this one. It was published in a French journal of ophthalmic medicine, the Annales d’oculistique, in 1850. The author, Dr Collette, was a doctor from Liege in Belgium; a contemporary directory refers to him as a … Read more