Tag Archives: surgery

A Surgical Poetry Reading

An un-sedated patient reads a poem dedicated to the scalpel-wielding Dr. Angel Escurdero while under the influence of  “Volitive Psychoanalgesia. The video posted on YouTube is linked to the Spanish doctor’s site where he promotes his own artsy approach to medicine and something he calls “noesitherapy,” or “healing by thinking”  (from the Greek word “noesis” for “thinking).

A Good Eye for a Sutured Infection

We created a Tumblr account recently and have been really digging the vintage medical scenes shared by Sutured Infection. Here’s a sample of what we’re crushing out on. We think you’ll understand.


Some days your nerve feel numbered.



A hand exerciser.


Equipment for studying the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.


Herbert List: “Instructive View into the Ribcage”, 1944


Electroretinogram: modern apparatus devised to measure the electric potential of the retina.



“Operating table developed by Dr. E.L. Doyen, called “Doyen’s Bed”, ancestor of all modern operating tables…”


And this is the afore-mentioend Dr. Doyen doing what he does best – tricky surgeries.  In this case separating two “Hindoo twins” in 1902.


Surgical Couture 2: Basic Black


After our last post about dramatic surgical styles, it’s hard not to think of Alexis Carrel, the man who really put the “theater” in “operating theater.” As divine as vintage white surgical gowns might be, the diabolical black shrouds preferred by Dr. Carrel surely have them beat.

Carrel, a French surgeon and Nobel Prize winner working in America in the 1920s and 1930s, believed that black aided the mental focus of his surgical team as well as visually highlighting any dust that might appear in the operating room. He therefore not only insisted his team dress head to toe in black, but even had the walls painted that color. The ominous aura did not go unnoticed by journalists covering Carrel’s surgical experiments, especially since that work involved keeping human organs alive outside the body — heady s stuff for an era fascinated with the mad scientists of pulp novels and early horror movies.

Appearing on the cover of Time Magazine only two months after the release of The Bride of Frankenstein, Carrel was treated both as a sinister curiosity and beloved celebrity, the latter in no small part due to his friendship with aviator Charles Lindbergh, who not only who assisted Carrel with the engineering of a perfusion pump necessary for the doctor’s transplant experiments but also shared some of Carrel’s more esoteric perspectives on shaping humanity’s future. These included the possibility of physical immortality and Carrel’s most unfortunate legacy — advocacy of eugenics.

More on that curious friendship can be found in David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever, the source of the picture above (via Depressed Metabolism.

Surgical Couture: Vintage White


V0030945 Wotton Lodge, Gloucester: operating theatre and staff.


Sure, contemporary blue or green surgical wear may be easier on the eye, but only the white wardrobe of yesteryear really moves us. So it was a great delight to discover the Flickr set of “Knuckles 45,” who obviously shares our appreciation for antique surgical styles. Savor for a moment these depictions of surgeons dressed the way God intended — in a color that evokes not only professional gravitas but the very power of angels, heaven, death and all things unseen.  And don’t even get us started on those hoods!


Bezoars: Persian for “Magic Hairballs”

Lisa Wood and her Swallowing Plates reminded us of the topic of swallowed indigestibles, but we still somehow missed National Hairball Day on April 27. To make up for this sad omission we feature the hairball in its most elevated state:  the bezoar.


“Bezoars” are accretions of matter fibrous matter such as hair (in cats, for instance) or plant matter (in grazing animals) that form in the stomachs of digestive systems.   The name comes from a Persian word meaning “protection from poison,” and bezoars (such as the opulently mounted specimen above) were historically prized for this and other magical properties.  The notion was eventually disproven when in 1575, when skeptical surgeon Ambroise Paré  caught his cook stealing silver and  convinced the disgraced man that if he would swallow poison and then submit to cure by bezoar, he would not be prosecuted for the theft.  The trusting man died in agony several hours later.

The hairball or “Trichobezoar” is form of bezoar, which can appear in humans suffering from “Rapunzel’s Syndrome,” the compulsion swallow hair.  The results… well, they’re not quite as fairytale-like as they should be.




Heroes of DIY Surgery: Boston Corbett


Folded shamefully away in the quilt of American history is a bloody pair of scissors used by union calvaryman. Why? Well, turns out self-castration is unbecoming in an American hero.

Just as Jack Ruby snuffed Lee Harvey Oswald before we had answers, Lincoln’s assassin was prematurely “executed” by a gunman with his own rogue sense of justice.   Though Corbett defied orders from his commanding officer, no disciplinary actions were taken, and he was initially hailed as a hero.

But then he started talking about God whispering in his ear and signing autographs “the agent of His swift retribution on the assassin of our beloved President, Abraham Lincoln.”

His fans began to worry.

When some of his fans turned to sending hate mail, Corbett’s natural paranoia blossomed.  He started reacting to requests for autographs with a drawn pistol.

“Natural” is perhaps the wrong word in this case, as Corbett’s paranoia was likely connected to his earlier work as a hatter, the mercury used in that trade and the madness associated with it and certain Lewis Carroll characters.

Whatever the cause, Corbett’s exposure to religion didn’t help.  The notion of following Christ’s example he took to mean growing his hair in long and stringy imitation of the Savior.  For years he refused to cut it.  With the genitals, it was a different story…

In 1858, upon finding himself inflamed by the sight of prostitutes walking the streets, he took matters in hand, slicing open his scrotum, stretching out the testes, and snipping his cords.  Immediately after, he rewarded himself with a prayer meeting, a long walk, and a hearty meal.  Good things were going to happen.  The assassin assassination was still years in his future.

After his moment in the national spotlight, Corbett was granted the position of doorkeeper at the Kansas State Legislature but ended that by waving around a gun and getting himself thrown in the state insane asylum.   Escaping from there, he become a reclusive farmer, living in a hole in the ground (euphemistically a “dugout”) and only occasionally emerging to wave a pistol at children playing ball on the Sabbath.   After being driven from his burrow by angry neighbors, Corbett’s history become fuzzy and he begins to fade into a sort of mythic figure.

It’s speculated that he died in a vast fire that claimed the town of Hinckley, Minnesota in 1894, though this is unconfirmed.  Also unconfirmed are stories this long-haired bogeyman had taken up residence in the nearby woods where he presumably  continued to threaten errant children with guns, the Bible, or perhaps… scissors.