Horror stories from the history of surgery

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35 Responses to “Horror stories from the history of surgery”

  1. gandalf23 says:

    aiiiiiie!  new/different picture!  also unicorn chaser stat!  

  2. Rich Keller says:

    “The knife was then withdrawn, and the aqueous humour being discharged, was immediately followed by a protrusion of the iris.”

    Reading this was nearly followed by an immediate discharge of my lunch.

  3. metafactory says:

    “Sometimes, it’s a little mind blowing when you remember just how recently medicine passed from the world of art/magic/tradition and into the realm of science.”

    Agreed!  Though I would modify your formulation slightly….

    “from the world of art/magic/tradition and into the realm of science/magic/tradition”

  4. James B says:

     I feel quite sure that future generations will look on our current medical arts with the same revulsion as we view those in the past.  This occurred to me yesterday, reading about that poor girl in Georgia having her limbs (and part of her torso) amputated to get rid of the flesh eating bacteria.  I understand why that had to be done, but would venture a guess that at some point we will come up with a better way.

    • Ian Wood says:

      I think that–for this particular condition, at any rate–we will eventually learn to simply not have flesh-eating bacteria. Perfectly easy to avoid, as they are very small and easily crushed.

    • artbyjcm says:

      “What grandpa? You guys didn’t just grow new teeth? You would screw fake ones in your head or something? What do you mean ‘if you could afford it’?”

      Also, more on topic of what you were saying. I read up on the poor girl. I guess if something doesn’t happen that often it legally doesn’t have to be documented. So the flesh eating condition she has is essentially being ignored compared to many other medical oddities. I find this odd, and a bit alarming. What if it evolves to the point of an outbreak one day? I feel like something that scary should at least a bit more attention payed to it, regardless of how infrequent it is.

  5. Nicola Mary says:

    Shiver me timbers!

  6. ahecht says:

    Unicorn chaser?

  7. It is my opinion that even nowadays medicine has not entered completely into the realm of science. Modern medical practice is still grounded in tradition and some treatments (chemotherapy, gastric bypasses, cortisone) are as gruesome as the one above. Furthermore millions of dollars are thrown away every year in useless treatments (homeopathy, Bach flowers, faith healing) certified only by quackery and recommended even by some “scientific” physicians. I’m not saying that medical advances are not important or that the medical science can be dismissed but that we still have horror medical stories and medical practice is still very unscientific. 

    • Laura Harden says:

      Flower essences may be useless to you. I don’t find the Bach brand to be especially powerful. But I have tried other flower essences that have had very obvious effects on myself and others. Don’t knock it just because it’s not popular and you don’t understand it. 
      They are not meant to be medicine as we think of , they are much more  subtle and affect the energy systems of the body.  With the exception of Bleeding Heart Flower (Dicentra), which causes a very strong emotional reaction in many who have tried it.

      • seanmchugh says:

        I find these to be as effective as Flower essences of all brands:
        http://boingboing.net/2012/05/16/placebo-now-available-in-maxi.html
        Their effectiveness is also super-duper subtle, what with the energy systems and all.

        • Laura Harden says:

          Very easy to criticize and make fun of I am sure, you like to hit easy targets I see. Your loss, not mine. Even if they stop selling them in stores, I know how to make my own. I can’t say that I don’t understand your POV. I lived much of my life with a closed mind. I was lucky enough to have it cracked open against my will
          Btw, subtle energy definitely exists. As Einstein put it, energy that is present, but not fully understood.

          • seanmchugh says:

             OK, I’m sorry for being sassy, but not for criticizing.  Have you read the wikipedia entry on flower remedies?  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bach_flower_remedies

            I agree, energy that is subtle exists.  Dark energy certainly meets the criteria for subtlety. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy 
            In fact, because it is so subtle, it has no practical influence on human scales.    That’s why physicists have to work so hard to see it’s effect.  On biological time scales, eark energy is irrelevant and chemical energy (electromagnetic) dominates.  Here, the subtle is a synonym for irrelevant.  What do you mean by “subtle energy?”

          • Petzl says:

             Just double-blind test it against a placebo, that’s all you need to understand it.

          • donniebnyc says:

             The only part of the wiki article on flower remedies that matters:  Systematic reviews of clinical trials of Bach flower remedies found no efficacy beyond a placebo.

            In other words, it will work about as well as praying to the FSM. 

    • IronEdithKidd says:

      Try having a baby in America.  Fucking ridiculous how much “medical guidance” is based in superstition or “tradition”.  I ended up doing quite a bit of research to parse the genuine concerns from the quackery.

  8. TwilightNewsSite says:

    I find it equally mind-blowing when I remember just how quickly medicine passed from the world of art/magic/tradition into the realm of science — and from there into the realm of commerce. Ka. Ching.

    As for the “science” available at this point, I agree with Bones.  Compared with what we should/
    ought/need to know, we’re still in the Middle Ages.

  9. fenrox says:

    Nice wang though.

  10. silkox says:

    My favorite part is how they have him sitting on a cushion to make him more comfortable.

  11. Nadreck says:

    The gruelling horror film “Corridors of Blood” is mostly hard to take, not because of the body-snatching or murders, but because of the historically accurate portrayal of a pre-anaesthetic hospital.  From IMDB:

    Dr. Thomas Bolton fights for the use of anesthetic in surgery and uses himself as a guinea pig but soon finds himself addicted.

  12. Okay, just hold it right there. I’ll have this drawing of your mutilated leg finished in about 45 minutes…

    Now that we’ve hacked away all that meat, let me get one of the bone. Doctor, pull back the flesh with this handkerchief.

  13. timquinn says:

    “The eye-lids were separated by the thumb and finger of the left hand, and then, a broad cornea knife was pushed through the cornea at the outer angle of the eye, till its point approached the opposite side of the cornea.”
     I think I have seen the film of this operation.

  14. Daneel says:

    I remember reading something in Karl Shaw’s book ‘Gross’ about surgery; it was about amputation during the Napoleonic wars. Apparently Napoleon’s chief surgeon could remove a leg in 15 seconds or so. The ‘fact’ referred to a British surgeon whose personal record was something similar but in his haste he accidentally also removed two of his assistant’s fingers and one of the patient’s testicles.

    Edit: Should have RTFA before commenting.

  15. DevinC says:

    It’s worth noting that the author of the article is none other than Dr. Atul Gawande, which is one reason why it’s so succinct and generally awesome.  Just about anything he writes is worth reading.

  16. niktemadur says:

    Robert Liston, nineteenth century “surgeon”, could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes, but there was no anesthesia in those days, so the patient would thrash about violently.
    In one infamous instance, Liston inadvertently severed his assistant’s fingers (gangrene killed him soon after) and slashed a distinguished spectator who dropped dead right there, at the sight of blood and fright that his organs had been “compromised”.

    Add to that the fact that the patient ALSO died of gangrene while in the recovery ward, and you get this humdinger of a quote:  “The only operation in history with a 300 percent mortality rate.”

    Ah, the good old days…

    • CH says:

      “Ah, the good old days…”

      Yeah… they just don’t operate anymore like they used to. *sigh*

      • niktemadur says:

        Also along the lines of… they just don’t NOT disinfect and sterilize the way they didn’t use to.  Or something like that.

  17. Velocirapt42 says:

    “City of Dreams” by Beverly Swerling has some surgeon characters in Nieuw Amsterdam in the 1600s. While their dedication to their craft is admirable, the descriptions are appalling (although they, unlike the physicians, actually do some good.) A description of an experimental breast cancer surgery nearly made me vomit (but of course, was fascinating.) There is also a description of a diphtheria epidemic in that series that everyone who thinks vaccines are unnecessary should read…

  18. snagglepuss says:

    It’s all okay – I wasn’t planning on eating for the next week or so anyway…

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