A Medical History of Skin: Scratching the Surface by Jonathan Reinarz and Kevin Siena (eds)

By Jonathan Reinarz and Kevin Siena (eds)

Illnesses affecting the outside have tended to impress a reaction of specific horror in society. With seen and occasionally repellant outward symptoms of illness, they have been frequently looked as if it would be hugely contagious, in addition to synonymous with immorality. Such connotations can have stemmed from the tell-tale buboes of syphilis, however the social stigma of disfigurement is anything that also exists at the present time. This choice of essays makes use of case reports to chart the clinical background of pores and skin from the eighteenth to the 20th century.

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Extra resources for A Medical History of Skin: Scratching the Surface

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21 This was the formation of a hard dry scab on the wound. Anatomical and physiological descriptions of the skin were limited in lecture and in print. In 1789 James Moore discussed some aspects of the skin in a prizewinning treatise on wounds. The cutis or outer layer of the skin was described as growing hair and being full of ‘eminences’, named papillae, which ran in waving rows, triangles or whorls (fingerprints, in modern parlance). Under the cutis lay the rete-mucosum, which appeared furrowed on dissection from the papillae above it.

Pott was a prolific author, and in 1756 he used the recovery time following a riding accident to write his first book, A Treatise on Ruptures, or hernias. It covered one of the most common ailments a surgeon treated, and began a stream of publications that give a glimpse of the workaday existence of a Georgian practitioner of surgery: a second book on ruptures and treatises on head wounds, cataracts, spine curvature and testicular cancer all followed. As a senior surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital from 1749, Pott trained hundreds of future surgeons, including the three on whom I focus in this chapter: John Abernethy (1764–1831), Peter Clare (1738–86) and John Heaviside (1748–1828).

One could draw these out in numerous ways through injuring or stimulating the skin. Apply a hot iron, a burning chemical, create an issue, attach a leech – Georgian surgeons employed many methods to work the skin. But there was not widespread agreement on what to try and when. Arguments were put forward in lectures and print on the most successful and efficient methods to release substances from under the skin. This made sense given that wounds healed from below, the last stage being a formation of a cicatrix or hard scar on the skin.

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