November 13th, 2005

Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (1896): a resource

Since we've noticed a lot of historico-medical questions coming through here, I thought I might offer Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, by Drs. George Gould and Walter Pyle, here available as an HTML etext. If you need to find out what a person (particularly a pregnant woman) might be able to endure prior to the 20th century, and whether a doctor might be able to address an extraordinary problem, give this a try. It's also a great read, and has given me any number of ideas for stories and plot devices. Just opening it at random gives you human drama:

A French invalid-artillery soldier, from his injuries and a peculiar mask he used to hide them, was known as ``L'homme à la tête de cire.'' The Lancet gives his history briefly as follows: During the Franco-Prussian War, he was horribly wounded by the bursting of a Prussian shell. His whole face, including his two eyes, were literally blown away, some scanty remnants of the osseous and muscular systems, and the skull covered with hair being left. His wounds healed, giving him such a hideous and ghastly appearance that he was virtually ostracized from the sight of his fellows. For his relief a dentist by the name of Delalain constructed a mask which included a false palate and a set of false teeth. This apparatus was so perfect that the functions of respiration and mastication were almost completely restored to their former condition, and the man was able to speak distinctly, and even to play the flute. His sense of smell also returned. He wore two false eyes simply to fill up the cavities of the orbits, for the parts representing the eyes were closed. The mask was so well-adapted to what remained of the real face, that it was considered by all one of the finest specimens of the prothetic art that could be devised. This soldier, whose name was Moreau, was living and in perfect health at the time of the report . . .