A patient came to Dr. Laennec complaining of chest pains. The doctor knew he should listen to her heart, but that was difficult, as she was fat and had large breasts. After all, this was 1816.
“Percussion and the application of the hand were of little avail,” Laennec wrote of the exam, “on account of the great degree of fatness.” Putting his ear right up to her chest was also “rendered inadmissible” by the Catholic bachelor’s social unease at putting his head that close to a young woman’s bosom. He later said of examining female patients that, “direct auscultation was as uncomfortable for the doctor as it was for the patient…It was hardly suitable where most women were concerned and, with some, the very size of their breasts was a physical obstacle to the employment of this method.”
So what could he do? Invent the stethoscope, of course! Read the story of how he did it at mental_floss. Link