Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Historical Week In the Flesh
08 August 2013

In the Flesh

These surgical instruments were designed to drill, prise, pull and cut into 16th and 17th century patients. Pictured at the top left, a lithotomy dilator could be inserted into a patient’s abdomen, opening up tubes so that kidney and gall stones could be removed. The double bladed bistoury (top right) is a surgical knife similar in use to a modern scalpel. Surrounding the trepanning drill (middle left) are three sets of forceps – to remove teeth (left two) or arrow heads (right) – together with a needle-like bullet extractor. The heavy duty surgical saw at the bottom was primarily used for amputations. Widespread use of antiseptics and anaesthesia in later years allowed surgeons to delve further inside the body, developing more precise instruments. Arrow head extraction may not be called for quite so often any more, but modern surgery is still a matter of deciding on the best tool for the job.

Written by John Ankers

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