Author: Dr. Marc Barton

Dr Joseph Bell: The Real Life Sherlock Holmes

I have been fascinated with the detective Sherlock Holmes since childhood. His almost supernatural powers of observation and deduction in stories such as ‘The Sign of the Four’, ‘The Speckled Band’, and ‘A Study in Scarlet’ captivated me and I have re-read them many times. More recently I have greatly enjoyed watching the TV series ‘Sherlock’ in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays a modern day Holmes and Martin Freeman plays his sidekick Dr. Watson. I have even experimented with the mind palace technique that Sherlock used in “The Hound of the Baskerville” episode to help memorise large chunks of information...

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The Russian Plague of 1770-1772

In the summer of 2016 a 10-year-old Russian boy cut himself skinning a marmot whilst hunting with his grandfather in the remote Kosh-Agach region in the Atlai Mountains. A few days later he developed a fever and a flu-like illness and was taken to a local hospital. He had contracted bubonic plague. His case caused panic and hit the international news. Everyone he came into contact with was quarantined and thousands of emergency vaccines were administered. Fortunately his case was isolated and fears of an outbreak proved to be unfounded. The last major outbreak of bubonic plague in Russia...

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Claudius Galen

The Greek physician, Claudius Galen, is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of Medicine. Galen was the greatest physician of his era and was also a skilled surgeon and renowned philosopher. He was responsible for numerous advances in the fields of anatomy, physiology and therapeutics and led a truly remarkable life.   His father’s dream Galen was fortunate to be born into an affluent home, in the city of Pergamon on the Aegean coast in AD 129. His father, Aelius Nicon, was a wealthy and well-respected architect and builder. Nicon was an educated...

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The Dancing Plague of 1518

In the summer of 1518 in the city of Strasbourg, Alsace, a woman by the name of Frau Troffea took to the streets and started to dance. She continued to dance day and night without stopping. No one knows why she started but within a few days others started to join in. Within a week Frau Troffea had died, presumably from exhaustion and 34 others are reported to have joined her dancing in the streets.   More Dancing! This peculiar dancing plague continued to gain momentum and, a month after it started, there were supposedly 400 people dancing in...

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The Story of Rene Laennec and the First Stethoscope

No single piece of equipment is more synonymous with the medical profession than the stethoscope. I can vividly remember wearing my brand new Littmann stethoscope with pride on ward rounds as a medical student, desperately trying to discern diastolic murmurs and extra heart sounds with little success. Few people realise that if it wasn’t for the shyness of a young French doctor called Rene Laennec that this amazing piece of equipment may never have been invented. Born in 1781, Rene Laennec was allegedly inspired to become a doctor due to his own childhood illnesses and the death of his...

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The Mysterious Sweating Sickness

The Middle Ages are renowned for being a turbulent and difficult period of history. War, famine and disease occurred throughout the period and one of the most devastating pandemics in history, the Black Death, occurred in the mid 14th century. The Black Death was not the only disease to wreak havoc in this period though, and another disease, now known as ‘Sweating Sickness’, or ‘The English Sweate’ claimed thousands of lives in the 15th and 16th centuries.   The first outbreak In the summer of 1485, at the start of the reign of Henry VII, a previously unseen disease...

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