Surgery is never fun, but it was especially brutal during the Victorian era. The nineteenth century saw major advances in the practice of surgery. In 1750, the anatomist John Hunter described it as “a humiliating spectacle of the futility of science”; yet, over the next 150 years, the feared, practical men of medicine benefited from a revolution in scientific progress and the increased availability of instructional textbooks. For the first time, surgical techniques were refined, illustrated in color, and disseminated on the printed page.
Crucial Interventions follows this evolution, drawing from magnificent examples of rare surgical textbooks from the mid-nineteenth century. Graphic and sometimes unnerving yet beautifully rendered, these fascinating illustrations provide a captivating look at the early history of one of the world’s most mysterious and macabre professions.
1. Surgery to correct strabismus (abnormal alignment of the eyes) which involved the division of the internal muscles of the eyeball so the eye would point in the right direction.
2. Removal (or “resection”) of the lower jaw.
3. Compression of arteries in the arm and leg to reduce blood loss during surgery.
4. Surgery for cancer of the tongue.
5. Anatomy of the armpit, and the ligature (clamping by string to stop the blood flow) of a blood vessel near it.
6. Amputation of various toes.
7. Sites for ligature of arteries in the lower arm and elbow joint.
8. Ligature of an artery in the inguinal region, using sutures and a suture hook, with compression of the abdomen to reduce aortic blood flow.
9. Dissection showing the aorta and the major arteries of the thorax (the bit inside the ribcage) and abdomen.
10. Anatomy of the large intestine, front, and back.
11. Dissection of the thorax, showing the relative positions of the lungs, heart, and primary blood vessels.
12. Cross section of the human brain.
13. Two kinds of caesarian section.
14. Surgical saws, knives, and shears for operations on bone.
15. A painting depicting one of the first British operations carried out with anesthesia by pioneering Scottish surgeon Robert Liston. He operated with a knife gripped between his teeth and could amputate a leg in under three minutes.
Crucial Interventions or, An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles & Practice of Nineteenth-Century Surgery by Richard Barnett is published by Thames & Hudson in association with the Wellcome Collection.
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