Vintage Medical Illustrations Reveal The Horror Of 19th Century Surgery

By Carole 1 year ago

1. Eye Surgery - patient mustn't blink

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015Surgery to correct an abnormal alignment of the eyes is relatively straightforward these days and is even carried out in a day clinic but back in the 19th century, it was a much bigger deal and involved dividing the internal muscles of the eyeball so the eye could point in the right direction.

2. Removal Of The Lower Jaw - not speaking again was the least of their worries!

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015Any form of surgery in the 19th century carried great risks.  Up to 1846, no anaesthetic was used.  The patient would have to bite on something in an attempt to get through the pain, which seems ludicrous.  A operation to remove the lower jaw couldn't, of course, use this technique!

3. Surgery For Cancer Of The Tongue - believe me, it's gruesome

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015We should warn you not to eat your lunch whilst looking at this image - it really is enough to make your stomach turn and your tongue curl, if you weren't having it cut out!  You can almost feel the pain yourself and just think, how would you ever lick an ice cream again?

4. Compression Of Arteries In The Arm And Leg - looks like bondage night!

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015Antiquated but imperative, the only way to protect the patient from severe blood loss during surgery was to strap them up and stop them bleeding to death.  The straps would be applied tightly to all the main arteries while the dangerous procedure was carried out.

5. Anatomy Of The Armpit - and the ligature

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015The closest most of us ever get to looking at our armpits is if we are shaving them!  The image above of the anatomy of an armpit looks pretty gory and if you think how sore it can be if you even nick your pit with a razor, then just multiply that by 10 million for the pain experienced by slitting it open.

6. Sites For Ligature Of Arteries In Lower Arm And Elbow Joint

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015You would be forgiven for misinterpreting this image which shows the areas for ligature (binding tightly) of arteries in the arm and elbow.  Do you think it's an abstract drawing by a famous artist?  If only!  Ligatures would literally save the life of the person undergoing surgery.

7. Amputation Of Various Toes -will the boots still fit?

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015You know how we all moan if we get a blister on the back of our heels from ill-fitting shoes and we bang on about it, especially if it starts bleeding.  Well, back in the 19th century, that would be classed as a treat!  If you were to undergo removal of one or all of your toes, it was sliced off with a knife like a butcher.

8. Dissection Showing The Aorta And Major Arteries Of The Thorax 

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015If you don't recognise this area, it is the bit inside the rib cage as well as the abdomen.  There seems to be a lot going on in there but not for long as some of it will be cut away.  Let's hope it's after they discovered the first anaesthetic which was probably opium.

9 .Ligature Of An Artery In The Inguinal - that's the groin area to you and me

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015To reduce the aortic blood flow, compression is used and when all is done, you can see in the image that the patient is being stitched up with a suture hook.  Nowadays, this type of surgery is usually done by keyhole but in the 19th century it was a huge operation and survival was never 100%.

10. Anatomy Of Large Intestine - miles of it

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015If you don't like looking at men's bottoms, front and back (although the bum cheeks are quite pert) then look away now!  These two images show both sides of the large intestine.  Bet you didn't know that it is (and always has been!) 5 feet long and 3 inches in diameter.

11. Cross Section Of The Human Brain - wow!

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015It must have been so scary to have brain surgery in the 1800s.  Unsurprisingly, the risk of surviving wasn't high.  Here's a fact for you - Ancient Rome had its own brain surgeon superstar in the first century A.D. He was called Aulus Cornelius Celsus and was treated like royalty.

12. Dissection Of The Thorax - hope the patient was well sedated

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015During this procedure, dissection of the thorax, you can see the relative positions of the lung, the heart and the primary blood vessels.  Were you aware that Leonardo da Vinci studied anatomy of the human body and was given permission to dissect human corpses?

13. Two Kinds Of Caesarian Section  - as if giving birth wasn't hard enough

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015Whether to go for a water birth, gas and air, an epidural or an elected caesarian - the choice is your's unless there is a medical emergency.  Back in the day there were two types of caesarian sections and it was dependant on the surgeon which one was carried out.

14.  Using An Anaesthetic For The First Time - captured in a painting!

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015Here we see a painting depicting one of the first operations carried out in Britain using an anaesthetic.  It was performed by Scottish surgeon Robert Liston, midway into the 19th century.  He operated with a knife gripped between his teeth and he amputated a leg in record time - 3 minutes!

15. Surgical Equipment - for operations on bones

Image source The Wellcome Collections 2015These are the tools that were used for operations on bones and include surgical saws, knives and shears.  It all looks very primitive but this was actually an updated version of some very strange looking implements that were used in earlier centuries - how reassuring! 

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