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Then and Now: The Evolution of Surgical Tools

Have you ever thought about a professional discipline in the modern world and wondered how in the world we got so advanced? Well, we started somewhere, and that spot was typically kind of brutal.

A great example is the development of surgical tools. For every successful surgery, there is a thousand-year history of operations gone wrong. Not only that, but the tools used were rudimentary and pain medicine wasn’t close to where it is now. 

We’re going to take a look at the development of surgical tools in this article, giving you some idea as to where we’ve been and where we are today. 

Let’s get started.

The Origins of Surgical Tools

The first tools used to treat medical issues were whatever body parts we could use to make improvements. That means our teeth, fingers, and strength were used to adjust issues with the body. 

Whether that meant pulling removing a penetrative item from someone’s body or tending to a wound, we were using what we had. The use of tools didn’t transfer into clear medical treatments until much after their advent. 

Our knowledge of medicine had to advance before we could have any use for tools anyway. Surgical tools advanced as refinements of the tools that we already come equipped with. 

Knives and scissors took the place of our sharpest tools like teeth or fingernails. Pinching devices that used leverage started to take the place of our fingers, and so on. 

We start to see the mention of surgery across the world anywhere from 3000 to 6500 B.C. While the practices weren’t advanced by any means, cultures around the globe started to use metal and stone tools to advance their surgical practice. 

It’s important to note that traditional medicines were advancing while surgical practices were not. So, just because a culture didn’t perform surgery at first doesn’t mean they didn’t have ways to treat patients. 

Budding Practices Around the World

Our mention of surgery at 6500 B.C. should be taken with a grain of salt. The oldest evidence is of something called “trepanning.”

This is the practice of carving a hole into the skull of a person to release fluids or, what they thought at the time, demons. Evidence of that practice was found in a nearly 8,000-year-old skeleton. 

It takes a few thousand years, but we start to see evidence of more advanced practices in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were using forceps, clamps, and other cutting tools to operate on living bodies. 

They acquired their knowledge of bodies, though, from dissecting mummies and gathering information. We also know that the Egyptians started to explore antiseptics and other protect patients. 

A lot of surgical knowledge was developed in Western medicine up until around 500 AD. At this time, though, the Roman Empire fell and much of the acquired knowledge was lost. 

Medieval Progression

Practices in the Far and Middle East continued to advance. Things started to pick back up again just before the renaissance in Europe, though. A big hindrance to surgical practices was the presence of the Catholic church. 

Their belief was informed by an ancient greek named Galen, who suggested that we should not dissect and operate on bodies. Those rules loosened in the 1300s, though, and the absence of restrictions started to speed the process of understanding the human body. 

As Europeans started to dissect corpses, their knowledge of how to operate on living bodies excelled. As we shift toward the 18th and 19th centuries, we start to see the removal of an appendix, the first ambulance, anesthetics, germ and bacteria safety, and even a heart surgery in 1896. 

It’s clear that the scientific understanding of medicine snowballed exponentially in the 1800s. As we enter the 1900s, though, things start to get far more pleasant for patients. 

The 20th century brought Novocain and pain medicine. We also start to see the use of advanced technology like lasers, X-rays, mechanical cables, and even the effective transplants of organs. 

Modern Surgery

The 21st century is home to a number of extremely advanced practices. Additionally, countries across the world are connected and use similar procedures. 

We can execute open surgery, which involves working on a patient with a full view of the organs being operated on. Further, there are surgical tools like fine knives and cameras that allow surgeons to view the interior of the body without being too invasive. 

Those factors allow us to take tissue samples, examine tissue, and understand affected areas. Further, we can conduct remote surgery with the help of robotic technology. 

Robotic Assistance and Artificial Intelligence

The use of advanced robotic technology and technical assistance through computer work is arguably the longest stride forward in medicine. The precision of computers is far superior to what humans are able to do in most situations. 

Additionally, technology allows us to be far more consistent with our procedures. The margin of error drops dramatically when we start to incorporate computers and advanced technology to reduce risk. 

We may even advance to a point where the presence of human surgeons isn’t necessary. That said, a huge advancement in the world of surgery has been the curation of fine surgeons. 

The art of performing surgery has developed over time as well, and there are certain actions that require human intervention. One example is situations of ethics where patient’s lives are concerned. 

It might be difficult for artificial intelligence to make a moral decision rather than the cold, rational one. 

So, for the time being, surgery will involve human hands and knowledge just like it did thousands of years ago. The only difference is that now we have a near-comprehensive understanding of the human body, illnesses, and how to treat them. 

Want to Learn More About Medical History?

If our exploration of surgery and surgical tools didn’t satisfy your historical craving, we’re here to help you get what you need. There’s an endless saga to learn and dissect. 

Explore our site for more historical facts, lifestyle tips, and much more. 

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