Two major developments brought on the late 19th century golden age of human surgery. First, the pioneering use of anesthetic by Robert Liston allowed surgeons to perform much longer operations since patients were no longer screaming and writhing in pain while the doctor did his work. Second, the invention, by Joseph Lister, of antiseptic surgery and the promotion of the germ theory of infection led to dramatically increased postoperative survival rates (eventually by an order of magnitude) that made surgery far less risky and allowed for more invasive procedures on the abdomen and thorax.
Crucial Interventions is a collection of drawings depicting the instruments and surgical breakthroughs of the 19th century in stunning beauty and detail. The drawings are quite explicit and not for the squeamish. That aside, the illustrations show the inventiveness of doctors at that time and many of the devices and techniques that were developed are nothing short of amazing. The text groups operations by body area and each chapter begins with a slice of the history of medicine and surgery that led up to the breakthroughs depicted in the drawings throughout the book.
In our current world of high tech medicine, it is sometimes instructive to recall a time, a mere 180 years ago, when the simple infection of a limb, an appendicitis, broken bone, cancer of just about any type, and any of hundreds of other ailments and physical accidents, led invariably to death. Before 1840 broken and infected human bodies were, for the most part, not fixable. Many amputations led to death from blood loss and the vast majority of patients that survived the surgery eventually died of postoperative infection.
The images gathered in this book chronicle the start of the golden age of surgery, a time when surgeons (previously lumped with barbers) rose to positions of great prestige. The book conveys the enormous explosion of surgical inventiveness and operating room daring that resulted as surgeons found themselves unfettered by conscious patients and rampant postoperative infection.
I enjoyed reading this book and perusing the drawings because of a personal interest in medicine and in particular the world of surgery. I have directly benefited from advances in surgery and this book offered me a chance to further appreciate the 18th century breakthroughs in technique that led, however long ago, to the miraculous field that is surgery today.