Surgery is a field which has been constantly evolving. New innovations and discoveries are being made at a rapid pace and what is cutting edge today may no longer be valid tomorrow. Several scientists, surgeons and physicians over the years have contributed to this change and what we see today is the hard work and toil of many generations.
This is a small effort on our part to bring into focus the life of some of the famous surgeons who have contributed immensely to this field.
Sushruta was the first surgeon in the world who lived in ancient India and is the author of the book Sushruta Samhita.
Sushruta is the father of Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery. His technique of forehead flap rhinoplasty that he used to reconstruct noses that were amputated, is practiced almost unchanged in technique to this day. His contributions to the field of plastic surgery are numerous. His book describes the various surgical techniques and instruments in detail.
The Susrutha Samhita contains the first known description of several operations, including the uniting of bowel, the removal of the prostate gland, the removal of cataract lenses and the draining of abscesses.
In 1670, when war broke out between the Mughals and the Aadilshah of Bijapur, some Mughal soldiers captured the villagers and as a punishment, their noses were cut off. However, after some days all of them received new noses. How ? Describing the treatment of the native surgeons, Niccolao Manucci, the Italian traveller who was in India in those days, says :
"The surgeons belonging to the country cut the skin of the forehead above the eyebrows, and made it fall down over the wounds on the nose. Then, giving a twist so that a live flesh might meet the other live surface, by healing applications, they fashioned for them other imperfect noses. There is left above, between the eyebrows, a small hole, caused by the twist given to the skin to bring the two live surfaces together. In a short time the wounds heal up, some obstacle being placed beneath to allow of respiration. I saw many persons with such noses, and they were not so disfigured as they would have been without any nose at all." (Storia do Mogor or Mogul India, 1653-1708 AD)
Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
He described the use of phenol in the washing of hands and also the use of sterile absorbable sutures (catgut) to reduce wound infection. Despite initial resistance, his methods were rapidly adopted throughout Europe particularly by the military in the Franco-Prussian war. The impact of his discovery was so much so that by 1878 ,in Germany, Robert Koch was using steam for sterilising surgical instruments and dressings.
In Lister's time 50% of patients undergoing surgery died mainly because of sepsis. The germ theory had not arisen and there was nothing called bacteria or viruses. The surgeons did not care to wash hand in between surgeries and blood stained clothing was considered as a matter of achievment. Lister was the 1st one to challenge these views and introduced antisepsis based on his theories.
Friedrich Trendelenburg (1844-1924)
Trendelenberg was a great practical surgeon born in Germany. He studied in germany And Edinburgh. he was also keenly interested in the history of surgery. His doctoral thesis De Veterum Indorum Chirurgiais discussed ancient Indian surgery. He worked on the removal of pulmonary emboli and the positions he used later gave his name to the famous Trendlenberg position. The closing years of his life were spent in Nikolassea, Germany. He died from carcinoma of the lower jaw at the age of 81 years.
He is also credited for being the 1st one to propose the therapy for Pulmonary Embolism
William Halstead (1794-1878)
Halstead never wrote a textbook or treatise. All his written contribution were in the surgical journals of the day. In 1889 he published a technique of inguinal hernia repair and in the early 1890s he described a radical mastectomy for breast cancer with which his name is associated. 1892 he described ligation of the subclavian artery. In the early 1900s he published on autotransplantation of the parathyroid gland. Halstead was a great surgical educator who, influenced by his early years in Germany, introduced basic laboratory medicine into clinical practice and a formal training program for junior surgeons. He was the founder of the surgical training program at the Johns Hopkins University on which many other teaching systems were modeled.
"The only weapon with which the unconscious patient can immediately retaliate upon the incompetent surgeon is haemorrhage"
Edoardo Bassini (1844-1924)
Edoardo Bassini, the father of hernia Surgery. He was born in Pavia in Italy. He worked as an infantry soldier and was seriously wounded in the groin in battle.
He was taken as prisoner and recovered from his faecal fistula there.
This injury was the driving force of his research in hernia surgery. He learned surgical procedures in Vienna under Theodor Billroth (1829–1894), in Berlin under Bernhard von Langenbeck (1810–1887), and in Munich with Johann Nepomuk von Nussbaum (1829–1890). He also visited London, where he met with Thomas Spencer Wells (1818–1897) and Joseph Lister (1827–1912).
HIs landmark work in 1884 in repair of inguinal canal paved the way for hernia repairs later
Ludwig George Courvoisier (1843-1918)
Every surgeon knows his law " In a jaundiced patient if a gall bladder is palpable it is not due to the presence of gall stones". Courvosier was one of the pioneers in surgery of the gall bladder and biliary tree. He was born in switzerland and later worked in London and Austria.
He worked under eminent surgeons like Billroth and Czerny there.
Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration