Graphic Illustrations Reveal the Horror of Surgical Removal of Unwanted Parts of the Human Body During the 19th Century

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With the beginning of meaningful American contributions to surgical literature in the early 19th century, the manifold epic events that enlivenour country’s surgical past began to receive wide dissemination. Of the various surgical texts published in this still preanesthetic period (ie, prior to fall 1846), the most physically impressive and artistically dazzling is Joseph Pancoast’s (1805-1882) massive A Treatise on Operative Surgery. With 80 quarto plates comprising 486 separate illustrations and 380pages of description, the tome’s most distinguishing features are the wonderfully executed lithographs, many of which are from drawings of surgical operations by Pancoast.

Professor of anatomy and surgery at Jefferson Medical College, Pancoast developed a number of new operations, including the first successful plastic operation for exstrophy of the bladder, the “plow and groove” suture for rhinoplasty, and the neurosurgical procedure of sectioning the second and third branches of the fifth pair of nerves as they emerge from the base of the brain. His Treatise also includes one of the earliest accounts of a free skin graft, used in this case in the reconstruction of an earlobe.

Below are some of images from the book. Yes, they are, most definitely, if not outright terrifying!

Hand painted wood engraving showing the necessary position for the patient for removal of bladder stones.

Plate 55, J. Pancoast, A treatise on operative surgery, 1846.

Plate XLIX. Surgery to correct strabismus, involving the division of the internal rectus of the right eye. Strabismus is the misalignment of the eyes.

Removing cataracts

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