Who Were The First Surgeons?

The First Surgeons

We are now living in an age of microsurgery, face transplants and nanotechnology â?? around the world, surgeons are changing the face of medicine with ever more ambitious and technically impressive procedures; these pioneers are following in the footsteps of surgeons past, walking along a path which stretches back to the very beginning of human historyâ?¦looking into the mists of time, a key question can often find its way to our lips: who were the first surgeons?

Tribal Cultures

The tribal people of old from around the world have been known to cauterise wounds, apply stitches and perform amputations on limbs: these ancient tribes used plant spikes as needles, feather quills to drain fluids, burning sulphur to seal wounds and even insect jaws as staples (snapping the insectsâ?? heads off once they have locked into place) â?? a lot of what we know today of these procedures comes from archaeological evidence and stories which have been passed on via the oral traditions of some of the tribes which are still in existence today.

Hippocrates and Galen

The earliest written rules for conduct and ethics in medicine were written by the famous Greek physician: Hippocrates of Kos (460 BC â?? 370BC), who is often referred to as â??The Father of Modern Medicineâ??; Proper categorisation of illnesses and descriptions of symptoms were just some of his key contributions to medicine: he is also documented as the first specialist chest surgeon, whose findings still carry weight today;

The monumental figure of Hippocrates would go on to inspire others, such as Galen of Pergamon (AD129 â?? AD200) to make leaps and bounds in the world of medicine, who even went as far as to perform eye and brain surgeries which would not be attempted again until modern times;

It has been said that there were no major game-changing medical discoveries in the western world beyond Hippocrates and Galen until the renaissance.

Hua Tuo

Among the many prominent figures of ancient medicine, few are as celebrated as the Chinese philosopher and physician Hua Tuo (AD140 â?? AD208): whilst in the west, Hippocrates and Galen were blazing a trail of discovery, in the east, Hua Tuo made surgical history, by performing the first known surgical procedures under the aid of anaesthesia, using a potent herbal ingredient, known as â??cannabis boil powderâ??, mixed with wine: Europeans would take the best part of two millennia to adopt the practice of using an anaesthetic whilst performing surgery;

This legendary figure would later find himself portrayed in the historical novel â??Romance of the Three Kingdomsâ??, where he is depicted treating the famous general, Guan Yu, in order to heal a poisoned arrow wound: this involved a procedure which required the poison to be painfully scraped off the bone with a knife â?? the general refused anaesthesia in a macho bid to inspire his men, with legend saying that he even continued playing a board game whilst being operated on (perhaps testimony to Hua Tuoâ??s skills as much as Guan Yuâ??s courage);

When Hua Tuo was offered a vast quantity of gold and a banquet in return for his services to the general, he apparently refused, claiming that a doctorâ??s duty lay in curing his patients, not making profits;

Unfortunately, Hua Tuo was executed under orders of Cao Cao, chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty, apparently for suggesting that he would need to open his head to operate on a tumour, an act which was interpreted as an attempt at assassination;

Whilst awaiting execution, Hua Tuo wrote down his medical techniques for posterity, however, as none of the prison guards would take his scroll for fear of associating with a soon to be executed man, he instead asked for a fire, upon which he burnt the scrolls, meaning that many of his effective techniques would be lost forever.

Abu al-Quasim al-Zahrawi

Whilst Hippocrates was considered by many to be â??The father of modern medicineâ??, Abu al-Qasim  al-Zahrawi (AD936 â?? AD1013), an Andalucian physician, is regarded by many as â??The father of modern surgeryâ??: during his ground-breaking career of 50 years, this prominent figure wrote a thirty-chapter medical encyclopaedia which covered a wide range of topics, from migraine surgery to childbirth.

Abu Al-Quasim also designed over 200 surgical instruments, many of which are unchanged in their overall forms and still used in surgery today.

This prominent figure also pioneered the use of catgut for internal stitching: this material naturally dissolves into the body without being rejected â?? with no better substitutes being discovered yet, this material is still used in modern surgery.

Jeremy Tang runs a Locum Agency which specialises in Dietitian Jobs and careers in Occupational Therapy.

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