“It hath left behind it so foul and filthy broad scars, that touched the lives of four persons”: Stories of Medical Malpractice in Elizabethan England

In the preface to his 1588 treatise on surgery, Elizabethan surgeon William Clowes declared to his reader that “mine intent is not to hold my tongue at abuses” (A prooued practise sig. A1r). Thus began a section in which he discussed several stories of medical malpractice.1 In one, he described a “pernicious pill” that had…

Under the Surface

I’ve only seen it a few times. I don’t mean when you pass someone at the grocery store, their head covered in a silk turban, pale skin, no eyebrows. I mean at close range—when it’s beyond repair. The first time was ten years ago, an older Taiwanese woman brought in by her concerned daughter. In…

Against Breasts

More than 16,000 mastectomies were performed in England and Wales in 2009-2010, mine among them. Due to the size of the tumor, the surgeon explained, it would not be possible to perform “breast conserving therapy” (BCT)—more often more referred to in the U.S. by the awkward Latinate term lumpectomy, and in the UK as a…

On hog plum, healing, and goop cosmetics

A wild forest fruit becomes part of a luxury skincare regimen. What is lost along the way? Hog plum (aka yellow mombin) hails from the tropical forests of Mesoamerica and the West Indies, where people have foraged its sweet fruit and medicinal leaves and bark for hundreds if not thousands of years. They have developed…

Rice in Bowls

It was the mixed rice again. Four months had passed since the Japanese soldiers of the First Regiment of Imperial Guard first saw such staple in November 1886. Instead of shining white rice, their bowls held some yellowish rice with barley kernels. They heard that soldiers in the Second and Third Regiment had the same…