Medical History

Jules Cotard and the Syndrome Named After Him

Jules Cotard was the first psychiatrist to write about the cluster of symptoms that would come to be called “Walking Corpse Syndrome.” But his work was unfinished, and left a great deal of room for debate about it among his colleagues.

The King's Evil and the Royal Touch

The practice of the monarch laying on hands to cure sick people lasted from the medieval period all the way to the 18th century in Britain and France. One disease in particular was so often "cured" it came to be known as the King's Evil.

Tarrare, a Case of Polyphagia

Insatiable hunger completely dominated every aspect of this French man's existence in the 18th century. His life took a series of twists and turns, but his condition was never truly diagnosed or cured.

The Crescent Hotel and Norman Baker

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is home to a beautiful Victorian hotel with a long and winding history. A colorful part of that history involves a man who claimed that doctors couldn't be trusted, and that he had the cure for cancer.

The Doctors' Riot of 1788

In the late 1700s, medical colleges needed cadavers for educational dissection, but there were no legal means for obtaining them. This led to some unorthodox dealings in the acquiring of bodies, and brought New York to a fever pitch in 1788. Read the show notes here.

The Flu Epidemic of 1918

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, which killed somewhere between 20 million and 50 million people, started just as World War I was winding down. Nobody cured it, or really successfully treated it. A fifth of the people in the world got the flu during the pandemic. Read the show notes here.

Elizabeth Blackwell, America's First Female M.D.

It's not a story of a person with a childhood dream of pursuing a career that wasn't available to them. Dr. Blackwell had no interest in medicine as a child. But she paved the way for women who came after her and changed the face of medicine in the U.S. Read the show notes for this episode here.


You may never have heard of him, but Avicenna was one of the first, and probably the most influential, Islamic philosopher-scientists. He's listed among the great philosophers in Dante's Inferno and is mentioned in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

Edward Jenner, Father of Vaccines

Smallpox has been around longer than recorded history. It killed royalty, shifted the tides of battles, and was so terrifying that many religions have gods, saints and martyrs associated with it. And Edward Jenner gets the credit for changing all that.

Encephalitis Lethargica

From 1916 to about 1927, a strange epidemic spread around the world. It caused unusual symptoms, from drastic behavior changes to a deep, prolonged sleep that could last for months. Between 20 and 40 percent of people who caught the disease died.