1822: Man has ingrown curtain ring removed from penis


Robert Liston (1794-1847) was a Scottish surgeon, known for his anatomical knowledge, skill and fast hands. Liston was famous – and to some extent notorious – for the speed of his amputations. It was said he could remove a leg in well under a minute, an astonishing feat at a time when amputations involved a lot of laborious hacking and sawing. Liston’s speed often came at a cost, however. According to legend, Liston once accidentally slashed the fingers of an assistant – and both the patient and the assistant later died of gangrene. Liston was also said to have accidentally sliced off a man’s testicles while amputating his leg at the thigh. Between 1818 and 1840, when he relocated to London, Liston worked in private practice in his native Edinburgh. Other physicians loathed him for his short temper and sharp tongue. Liston’s willingness to treat the poor made him more popular with ordinary Scots, though he had a reputation for impatience and carelessness.

In 1822 Liston, then a young man in his late 20s, provided a local medical journal with an account of a recent case. He was approached by a man in his late 50s who complained of difficulty urinating – however the patient refused to let the doctor make “any examination of the parts” and promptly left. Several months later the man returned, his complaint now considerably worse. This time he told Liston the whole story:

Robert Liston, about to hack off a leg

Robert Liston, about to hack off a leg

 
“About the age of nine or ten [the patient] had incontinence of urine and was frequently chastised by his parents on account of this occurrence during the night [bedwetting]. In order to save himself from a flogging, before going to bed he passed a brass curtain ring over the penis, as far as he could. This expedient had the desired effect, but in the morning swelling had come on [and prevented] his removing it. Notwithstanding all his suffering from pain and difficulty in passing his urine, he made no complaint.”
 

The curtain ring remained lodged at the base of his penis for 47 years. Eventually it sank into the skin which, according to Liston, “adhered over the foreign body, and there it remained”. Strangely, the foreign body gave the patient no significant trouble, a fact evidenced by him becoming “the father of a fine family”. Seeking to resolve the man’s continence issues, Liston examined him and found a “broad hard substance” around the base of his member. Not one to mess around, the doctor set to work incising and separating skin from the lower penis. After much work Liston managed to extract the brass ring, which after almost five decades had become encrusted with calculus (hard growth formed by salt and urea deposits). The operation brought some improvement to the man’s urinary issues but he died of lung disease shortly after.


Source: Robert Liston, “Account of a calculus in the urethra, formed upon a brass ring” in Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 19, 1823.

1677: Londoners burn live cats in wicker pope


cats

In the 1973 film The Wicker Man, Edward Woodward goes the way of countless medieval pussies

Cats have long been associated with the Devil or witchcraft – and many cats have paid the ultimate price for this. Burning live cats for entertainment and religious point-scoring was widely reported in medieval and early modern Europe. It was particularly common in France, where a dozen live cats were routinely burned in Paris every Midsummer’s Day. The English courtier Philip Sidney attended one of these feline infernos in 1572, writing that King Charles IX also threw in a live fox for added interest. In 1648 France’s King Louis XIV, then aged just 10, lit the tinder on a large bonfire in central Paris, then watched and danced with glee as a basket of stray cats was lowered into the flames. Live cats were burned alive elsewhere in Europe, particularly at Easter or the period around Halloween.

Cat burning was less common in Britain, however some examples are recorded. In November 1677 Charles Hatton wrote to his older brother Christopher, chiefly about who might be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. The younger Hatton closed his letter by describing a recent celebration marking the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I taking the throne. At the centre of this pageantry was a large wickerwork figure of the Pope, reportedly costing 40 pounds to make. The effigy was paraded through London then erected and set alight in Smithfield. Inside its belly was a number of live cats:

 
“Last Saturday the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was solemnised in the city with mighty bonfires and the burning of a most costly pope, carried by four persons in diverse clothing, and the effigies of devils whispering in his ears, his belly filled full of live cats, who squawled most hideously as soon as they felt the fire. The common saying all the while was [the cats' screeching] was the language of the Pope and the Devil in a dialogue between them.”
 

These perverse celebrations were concluded with the opening of a free barrel of claret.


Source: Letter from Charles Hatton to Christopher Hatton, November 22nd 1677. From Correspondence of the Family of Hatton, vol. 1, 1878.