How To: Remove a bladder stone in the days before anesthesia

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice is an entire blog dedicated to eye-witness accounts of surgery in the days before anesthesia. Oh, Internet. Thou art wonderful and horrible.

Collected by University of London medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, the stories come from well-documented sources, from the 17th century onward. Part of the goal here is to follow the path of surgery as it really started to become its own profession ... separate from that of barber. Yes, this is going to be every bit as gory as you imagine. I'll start looking for a unicorn now.

If you visit the Gordon Museum at Guy’s Hospital in London, you will see a small bladder stone—no bigger than 3 centimetres across. Besides the fact that it has been sliced open to reveal concentric circles within, it is entirely unremarkable in appearance. Yet, this tiny stone was the source of enormous pain for 53-year-old Stephen Pollard, who agreed to undergo surgery to remove it in 1828.

Although the operation itself lasted only a matter of minutes, lithotomic procedures were painful, dangerous and humiliating. The patient—naked from the waist down—was bound in such a way as to ensure an unobstructed view of his genitals and anus [see illustration]. Afterwards, the surgeon passed a curved, metal tube up the patient’s penis and into the bladder. He then slid a finger into the man’s rectum, feeling for the stone. Once he had located it, his assistant removed the metal tube and replaced it with a wooden staff. This staff acted as a guide so that the surgeon did not fatally rupture the patient’s rectum or intestines as he began cutting deeper into the bladder.

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