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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Surgical Chain Saw

From: encyclopediavirginia.org
Contributed by T. A. Wheat


In the era before antiseptic surgery, sterility was not considered necessary and anyway probably would have been impossible to achieve and maintain in the Civil War environment. Nevertheless, some surgeons wrote that they were at least clean. They washed away visible dirt when possible and kept their instruments free of blood and pus that would corrode the metal.

Patients were most likely to survive if an amputation was performed within 48 hours of a wounding; this was known as a primary amputation. At the general hospitals, the stumps would occasionally need to be revised, or re-amputated, at a higher level due to infection in the bone or soft tissues. Otherwise, they were treated with continuous water dressings (still a good method of wound care). Styptics and cautery were techniques used to control occasional bleeding and various chemicals considered to be antiseptics (because they prevented sepsis) also made the wounds smell better. Of course these compounds, such as iodine and carbolic acid, were actually killing bacteria and would be used in the postwar period during the early days of aseptic surgery.


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