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 late arrival
Charles Delucena Meigs (1792-1869) was an American obstetrician of some eminence. His textbook Obstetrics, the Science and Art was influential and remained in print for many years.
Perhaps the most notorious passage of this work is a section he added to the 1856 edition, explaining his opposition to the use of anaesthesia in childbirth. Chloroform (and, in the US, ether) … Read more
An uncommon injury
It’s not often that a surgical emergency is caused by a lemon pip. OK, seeds and nuts of all kinds can be a choking hazard, but when was the last time you heard of a lemon-pip-related accident that necessitated emergency eye surgery?
This, published in the New York Medical Record in 1887, is just such a case. It was reported … 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
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
Libel and lithotomy
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
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
Death by onanism
Victorian society was famously paranoid about the dangers of masturbation. For teachers, priests and those with responsibility for young people, it was a question of morals and the corruption of youth – but the medical profession also agreed that self-abuse was a vice with terrible consequences. The old cliché that the practice ‘makes you go blind’ was not said just … Read more