There were lots of different injuries that surgeons would try and treat. In the 16th century, Surgery wasn’t taught in the universities. People became surgeons by being apprenticed to another surgeon, watching his or her work and copying it.
There were guilds of surgeons who controlled entry into the profession. Master surgeons needed to have licenses and sometimes had to pass lengthy tests. Women had to pass these same tests to become surgeons and a great number did.
One of the main turning points in surgery was in the Renaissance period and the man involved was Ambroise Pare. Before he came along, a process called Cauterization treated wounds. Pare had never treated a gunshot wound before he became an army surgeon in 1536 and then he had to treat lots once the wars started!! He had read the works of Jean de Vigo and come to the conclusion that the only way to treat a wound was by pouring boiling oil all over it. He used this method many times but after a long time, it finally ran out. What was he going to do? He had to think fast because there was a war going on. He quickly mixed egg yolks, oil of roses and turpentine together.
That night Pare was really worried that his patients would all be dead, but to his great surprise, the mixture had worked and the wounds were healing. Now the only thing to do was to find a good way of stopping excessive bleeding. The old method was to press a red-hot iron over the wound to seal up the blood vessels and stop the bleeding. The only problem was that the patients nearly died from the pain of it all.
Pare had another brilliant idea; he decided to tie a silk thread around each of the blood vessels to close them up. Pares one problem with this idea was that the silk thread would most likely carry an infection into the wound. If only he had an antiseptic to kill the germs his ides would have worked better.
That takes us on nicely to the nineteenth century where a man called Joseph Lister had the idea that Pare really needed.
In 1865 he was a professor of surgery at Glasgow. There were a lot of his patients whose wounds turned septic after their operations. He looked back at the work of Louis Pasteur and he saw immediately that it was the microbes in the air that was causing the wounds to go septic. Lister knew that Carbolic acid had been used to make sewage safe to use as fertilizer so he thought that it might work in killing the microbes. Lister used the acid in various ways, including spraying it in the air to kill all the microbes on or near the patient. Before his antiseptics were introduced, only 56% of all patients recovered and 44% died but after Lister invented the antiseptics, 86% recovered and only 14% died. That meant that there had been a huge improvement in the death rate after the surgery but it wasn’t perfect and people were still dying.
The second turning point in the nineteenth century was the invention of anesthetics by a man called James Simpson.
From the Stone Age until this time, any operation, even the pulling out of a tooth, would cause unbearable pain. The answer to this was obvious to Simpson. Anesthetics were a great idea because it meant that operations and surgery could be taken more seriously and slowly. Time could be taken to make sure that they got it absolutely right while the patient wouldn’t feel the pain in any way.
These were the two most important events or turning points in surgery in the nineteenth century and maybe in the history of surgery.