The Tibia of Charles Anderson

Oil Paint of Anderson's tibia, showing round plug

Charles Anderson was employed as a hand on a sailing vessel which travelled between Riga and Leith. In 1814, when Anderson was 17, he fell on deck with his leg doubled under him. While the sailing vessel was docked at Riga, he consulted a surgeon who gave him a liniment to rub onto the wound as a way of dealing with the swelling of the knee and the pain. Anderson had to walk with crutches, but began to feel a little better. However, while In Riga, he fell again and was confined to hospital for six weeks; here he was told that ‘the bones beneath the knee were splintered’. In the following year Anderson was admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, he refused amputation, and after a two week stay, he was discharged.

Almost three years after the initial accident, Anderson was attended to in Dundee, and the swelling in his leg was incised. Later in that year, Anderson’s temperature rose and a permanent sinus appeared in his leg. To manage the cleaning of the wound and to deal with the discomfort caused by the continual build up of discharge, Anderson inserted a plug into the wound. The plug would be made of either sponge or wood and increased in size as the wound grew, until the opening measured 25mm. He would remove the plug once or twice a day, drain the fluid and wash the wound with salt water.

Dry specimen of Anderson's tibia

Anderson reported that he was in better health and was able to walk on both legs. From 1820, Anderson was employed as a clerk to a manufacturer, often weighing flax and ‘sometimes walked upwards of twenty-four miles in one day’. Anderson enjoyed 12 years of ‘good health’ until he began to deteriorate and suffered from recurrent attacks of hectic fever. At the age of 31, Anderson finally agreed to amputation. At a time when amputation was the primary treatment for this kind of injury, Charles Anderson had delayed the loss of his limb for almost 17 years.

drawing of tibia, showing plug in black & white


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s