In 1803 a surgeon from Dumbarton in Scotland, Alexander Hunter, wrote to the London Medical and Physical Journal to report this remarkable lucky escape:
An apprentice of William Ewing, a cooper, in this neighbourhood, had an ulcer on the fore-part of the tibia with considerable inflammation, for which he was ordered a poultice with acetate of lead.
Lead (II) acetate… Read more
Pretty much any substance you care to mention has, at one time or another, been touted as a cure for cancer. The historic medical literature is littered with unsuccessful specifics for the disease. Many of them were deadly poisons such as arsenic or belladonna – indeed, the use of poisons has persisted, in a more sophisticated form, in contemporary chemotherapies.… Read more
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
I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, since I’ve been working hard on a book which will be published later this year. It’s a true-crime thriller about a murder case in nineteenth-century Dublin, which has entailed weeks spent sifting through Irish newspaper archives. I recently stumbled across one medical story in the course of that research which was too … Read more
This story of misadventure and an unusual resuscitation method seems particularly appropriate for what Twitter tells me is International Coffee Day. It was published in the Pacific Medical Journal in 1866; the author, Dr Cachot, was an eminent physician from San Francisco.
The daughter of Mr. D–, aged 22 months, swallowed from a vial a portion of tinct. aconite, with … Read more
A couple of months ago I wrote about a case from 1812 in which a patient with a massive facial injury was kept alive by lemonade injected into the rectum. Coincidentally I’ve just come across this report, published in 1878 in the American Practitioner, which covers rather similar territory. It aroused considerable interest at the time, since it … Read more
It’s been a little while since I’ve had the time to write a blog post. The reason for this hiatus is that my wife and I have been preparing for our move to Canada, where we’ll be living for the next twelve months. We arrived in Toronto earlier this week, and wasted no time in discovering the superb local craft … Read more
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
In June 1828 the Lancet published a pair of short case histories that contemporary readers must have found rather confusing. Printed on the same page, they both dealt with cases in which a strangulated hernia had been treated with a tobacco enema (yes, really: an infusion of tobacco administered via the anus). In the first case the treatment was a … Read more
Today’s story first appeared in the Observationes, a collection of case reports by the German surgeon Wilhelm Fabry (1560-1634). Fabry, also known as Fabricius Hildanus, is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of German surgery’ and was a methodical and scientific operator whose careful descriptions of his work exerted a powerful influence on later generations of medics.
It isn’t … Read more