Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Suture Needles and Suturing During the Civil War Era

by Dr. Michael Echols
From: medicalantiques.com

Sometimes the most obvious things are sitting right under your nose.  Based on how suturing is done today, it suddenly dawned on me I had never seen a suture forceps in any of the surgical sets of my pre-1870 collection.  None!  There were lots of suture needles and suture materials (wire and thread), but no suture needle forceps!  Why?  ...Because they used their fingers to suture, just like women and tailors of the time used their fingers to sew!  That is why the curved and straight needles found in surgical sets are so large. The suture needles of today are very fine and curved along the size of a dime and require handling by sturdy needle forceps to place sutures, where as those prior to the late 1880's were curved along the size of a silver dollar or twenty dollar gold piece and sutures were placed by hand in most cases.  Now, all that being said, there were 'needle holders', just not the type we associate with suturing later in the 1900's.  Forceps with grooves in the beaks are seen that would have stabilized a suture needle.  But dedicated locking suture needle holders per se, were not commonly found in American sets.

In one Snowden and Brother Civil War surgical case, I found a Physick's forceps which is expressly used to hold a needle firmly in a grove in the jaws of the tip.  I have also seen this Physick's forceps referred to in multiple texts for deep suturing in a wound.

Image: Physick's forceps for suturing


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