5 Medical Discoveries That Changed Surgery Forever
Humans have been using tools to modify our bodies for as long as we’ve been around. But which discoveries contributed the most to the safe, complex, and relatively painless surgeries we undergo today? We’ve compiled a list of the five greatest medical inventions in history.
1. Antiseptics –
In the past, doctors believed that the cause of infection was “bad air,” and hospitals would actually open all windows and doors at midday to get a fresh, non-infectious draft going. That all began to change when Joseph Lister read a paper by Louis Pasteur that suggested gangrene could be avoided if the microorganisms that caused it were eliminated via filtration, heat, or chemical solution. Lister began working to find a chemical that could be used to directly treat a wound and settled on a solution of 5% carbolic acid. After experiencing success in lowering infection rates, he pioneered other changes such as wearing gloves, washing hands, and using non-porous materials for all operating room equipment. Because of this, deaths from infections and gangrene plummeted, and doctors were allowed to do more intricate procedures with lower risk of patient complications during recovery.
2. Antibiotics –
Antibiotics work by either blocking the formation of cell walls in bacterium or interfering with bacterial multiplication through disrupting protein processes, thus breaking an infections ability to reproduce in the body. There are records of ancient Greeks and Indians using the antibiotic effects of moldy bread in treatments, but no one understood the true potential of antibiotics until Sir Alexander Fleming. Fleming, a Scottish biologist, observed that the common fungus Penicillium notatum destroyed a Staphylococcus bacteria sample on a test plate. He diluted the fungus and dubbed it “penicillin.” Penicillin won Fleming the Nobel Prize in 1944 and has saved millions from deadly infections.
3. Anesthetics –
Before gaseous anesthesia, pain from surgery was intolerable. The phrase “bite the bullet” comes from field doctors giving patients nothing but a lead slug to bite into as means to handle their pain. In the 1830’s the gas ether became commercially available, and “ether frolics,” where college students would get a whiff and stumble around, became commonplace. A dentist named Horace Wells witnessed one of these displays where a patron under the influence injured his leg and felt nothing. Wells convinced the Chief Surgeon at Massachusetts General to watch him extract a tooth from a patient painlessly using ether, and the technique spread from there. Within his lifetime Wells lost credit for his landmark discovery, but ether and other gaseous anesthetics continue to make surgeries of all types painless and efficient.
4. X-rays have transformed our understanding of medicine and the human body by allowing doctors to diagnose hundreds of ailments without exploratory surgery. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate most soft tissue. In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen placed his wife’s hand between a between an X-ray-producing Lenard tube and radiographic paper. When she saw the outline a skeletal hand wearing her wedding ring she cried, “I have seen my death!” Since then different methods of producing X-rays have replaced the Lenard tube, and radiologists now use lead to limit radiation exposure to themselves and patients, but the X-ray and its ability to peer into our bodies continues to drive safer and more precise surgeries.
5. Hypodermic Syringe –
Today syringes are used to intravenously deliver everything from insulin to Botox, but few know of their origin. Although intravenous injections have been a part of medicine since 1657, doctors were unable largely unable to introduce substances to the body without incisions before the invention of the hollow needle by Francis Rynd in 1844. The needle’s first use was as a cleaning suction, but Dr. Charles Pravaz adapted the need to deliver coagulant to patient with brain aneurisms. The original steel tube, glass, and plunger design has been used with little modification ever since. Though an estimated 10% of adults have a needle phobia, the hypodermic syringe's quick delivery of drugs, antibiotics, vitamins, and local anesthetics continue to improve and save countless lives.
Looking to utilize the best of modern technology and medical expertise for your next procedure? Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with our certified plastic surgeons.
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