Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Amputation kits

Surgeon's kits for the amputation of limbs - which received plenty of use during the American Civil War - do not seem to have changed much to the eye of the lay observer (compare this kit from the Revolutionary War). But the professional can easily spot the nuances (here's a set with ivory handles) and improvements over the years. Nevertheless, they did not need to be altered for use in different professions (here are kits used on sailors and coal miners). The standard 19th c. kits included a useful selection of the following instruments (see labeled images here and here):
  • bone saw - used to quickly cut through bone
  • capital saw - for resection of large bones of the arm or leg
  • bone chain saw - for cutting bone in tight spaces
  • hey saw - to cut into the skull
  • metacarpal saw - used to cut fingers and tendons
  • amputation knives - often double-edged and sometimes folding, concave were for used for circular amputation, straight-edge for tissue separation
  • catlin knife - a thin double-sided blade for cutting in both directions for instance when dividing flesh and vessels
  • liston knife - for cutting through flesh and muscle
  • scalpel - a straight blade for tissue incision
  • bistoury - a curved scalpel for dissecting ligaments and tissue
  • trephine or terebrum - for drilling a core of bone
  • bone chisel and hammer - to trim bone
  • tenaculum - for hooking arteries to pull them out enough to tie them off
  • ronguer - for trimming bone fragments or finishing cuts
  • forceps - for removing bullets, holding an artery while tying it off
  • scissors
  • tourniquet - to compress arteries above the cut during amputation
  • Bone brush - to remove bone sawdust from the cutting site
These antique amputation kits are not in short supply, and many are curated by museums (such as the Rose Melnick Medical Museum and the Civil War Museum at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield). If you want to add one to your own collection, you just have to be prepared to shell out a few hundred bucks at an auction (Cowan's, WorthPoint) or antique store.

Thanks to Yvonne for the idea!

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