(p. A17) Using a panoply of colorful examples, the author artfully illustrates the frustrations, uncertainty, poorly founded confidence and frequent futility of medical practice in the prescientific age. Employing a consistently light and humorous touch, he effortlessly navigates a cornucopia of fascinating, esoteric and obscure patient histories.
The carefully selected vignettes demonstrate the befuddled mindset of the well-intentioned physicians who were forced to contend with the vagaries of damaged and failing human flesh without the benefit of anesthesia, and armed with little more than the fanciful theories of Galen (a second-century Greek who attributed disease to imbalances of the four “humors”: blood, phlegm, and yellow and black bile) and an elementary knowledge of human anatomy.
Yet despite their lack of mechanistic understanding, these individuals showed leaps of ingenuity no less startling than those of today’s physicians and genome rewriters. To avoid subjecting himself to the dangers of 18th-century surgery to remove a bladder stone, Mr. Morris tells us, the French-born surgeon Claude Martin fashioned an instrument out of a knitting needle and a whalebone handle, which he then inserted through his urethra and used to manually file away the stone.
For the full review, see:
Adrian Woolfson. “BOOKSHELF; Desperate Remedies; Treatments of old for common health ills included tobacco-smoke enemas, arsenic cigarettes–and the “Pigeon’s-Rump Cure.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth’ Review: Desperate Remedies; Treatments of old for common health ills included tobacco-smoke enemas, arsenic cigarettes–and the “Pigeon’s-Rump Cure.”)
The book under review, is:
Morris, Thomas. The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine. New York: Dutton, 2018.