Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"I Dressed The Wound, And God Healed Him"

First in an occasional series of my personal medical heroes.

Ambroise Pare practised in the 16th century; he came from a family with strong surgical connections: his brother was a Master Barber-Surgeon and his sister married one. He served on the House at the Hotel Dieu for a few years, but appears to have been too poor to pay the barber-surgeons union dues, and joined the Army.

Gunpowder had been deployed on the battlefields of Europe since the 14th Century, and had completely changed the pathology of wounds received there. The military surgeon, was, at that time, of a mind to treat gunpowder wounds in a way designed to destroy the 'poison' such wounds were thought to contain. The 'obvious' way to do this was through extensive cautery, or by pouring boiling oil into the wound.

Pare, however found himself forced to improvise; having run out of "oil of elders, mixed with a little theriac" (which was applied boiling t the wound), he was forced to use an alternative - "a digestive made of egg yolk, rose oil and turpentine"

On reviewing his patients early the next morning, he found those on whom the digestive had been used in an altogether better state, and resolved "never again to so cruelly burn the poor wounded by gunshot"

He also went on to describe the technique of ligating blood vessels in the context of amputation.

1 comment:

The Platypus said...

I remember that oil of elders and theriac shortage. Tough times.