Wednesday, May 20, 2009

form and function: surgery in the 1800s

Medgadget has an incredible interview with Dr. Laurie Slater to help them decipher a surgical kit from the 1800s.

image from

It's really fascinating to learn about the history of medicine, especially surgery, and to think about some of the progress - both good and bad - that has been made. For example, while Dr. Slater talks about how disposable and sterile contemporary surgical equipment is, he seems to hold a special reverence for the equipment in this kit, and the gravity of its purpose:
Take for example the capital saw (the large one) in your set. The handle is made from dark black smooth ebony which is a durable hardwood, polished and oiled over many hours to a smooth waterproof finish. The curve of the handle is simple, but with a design reminiscent of something from the animal kingdom. Well weighted in the hand; the inner curve fitting the surgeons grip and the upper 'fin' and lower 'fish tail' anchoring the palm to the handle. This, along with the crosshatching will prevent any slippage when the teeth of the the cold polished steel meet with bone.

Stop for a moment and have another look, but this time imagine that this instrument is about to saw through your own leg without anaesthetic. Or look at it from the surgeon's point of view and imagine it is the tool with which you are about to remove a man's limb. This is a dark, sombre instrument, with serious purpose.

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