15 Freaky Surgical Tools From the Olden Days

Hate going to the doctor? Not after seeing these gruesome surgical tools from the 18th and 19th centuries! These instruments bored holes in skulls, chopped off tongues and snipped out tonsils two at a time—nothing like the sterilized, precise, parylene coated instruments used today.

Artifical Leech

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Bloodletting has been used for centuries to treat everything from acne and asthma to insanity and leprosy. The practice was intended to balance the body’s humors (phlegm, blood, yellow and black bile) by draining “poisons” (excess blood). Leeches were commonly used, as was this device. The blades cut a wound in the skin, while the cylinder produced a vacuum that sucked up the blood.

Bullet Extractor

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Elongated bullet extractors such as this one from the early 1500s could reach bullets lodged deep in the body. Its hollow rod contained an adjustable screw that could be brought up or down by turning the handles. The tool was placed in the wound and the handles turned until the screw pierced the bullet and allowed it to be removed.

Trephine

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Trephination (also known as trepanning) is the act of drilling a hole in the skull in order to treat various ailments, including seizures, headaches and skull fractures. This particular trehpine is from the late 1700s and is made of ebony and steel, both strong materials suitable for drilling through bone. Trephination was mostly done on adult men, but evidence has also been found in the skulls of women and children.

Screw Gag

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This simple device from the late 19th century is made from boxwood and was used to keep a patient’s airway open while under anaesthesia.

Amputation Knife

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In the early 1700s, before it become more common to leave a flap of skin to cover a limb stump, amputation knives were grotesquely curved. Surgeons would make a circular cut through skin and muscle around the bone before cutting it with a saw. Eventually, the technique changed and straight knives were found to be more effective.

Amputation Saw

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Saws like this one were used to cut through muscle, tissue and bone during amputations, which were usually caused by illness, injury or an infection such as gangrene. Amputation was a last resort in the early 1800s because anaesthetics had yet to be invented, meaning patients had no relief from the extremely painful procedure.

Tonsil Guillotine

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This spiffy device could remove two tonsils at once! Tonsillectomy by guillotine was standard in the 1800s for patients with recurring throat infections, but lost popularity a century later thanks to the high numbers of hemorrhaging, and also the high numbers of tonsil parts left behind.

Backwards Scissors

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This tool is actually called a “bistoury caché,” which translates into “hidden knife.” It was used to cut internal organs and open cavities, especially during bladder removal.

Calculus Stone Extractor

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When calculus stones form in the bladder, kidneys or gall bladder, they cause infections, irritation, swelling and extreme pain. Doctors now use sound waves to break up the stones, but back in the early 1900s, they were removed manually with this device. Ouch!

Dental Drill

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As if dental surgery wasn’t complicated enough, in the early 1900s dentists had to manually power their drill by pushing the foot pedal up and down!

Dental Key

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Even now, having a tooth pulled is an uncomfortable process. But in the 1700s, it was a heck of a lot worse. Dentists removed teeth with this key-like device by placing the claw over the tooth and the long metal rod against the root of the tooth. The key was then turned, which slowly and painfully pulled it out—if all went well. The procedure hurt so much that patients had to be restrained.

Surgically-Removed Button

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Here’s a nice break from gruesome surgery tools: A cute little note written by a doctor who surgically removed a button from a child’s nose on July 5, 1906.

Retractor

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This retractor looks like a tool of torture, but it was actually used to hold back muscles and skin during operations. It’s made of bronze and was used by the Romans around 100 AD.

Skull Saw

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The chainsaw-like blade of this bizarre skull saw is moved by turning the handle either clockwise or anticlockwise—not exactly a precise surgical tool. It was used from 1831-1870 to saw through sections of the skull in order to provide access for other instruments.

Tongue Ecraseur

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If doctors needed to remove part of your tongue due to cancer or other diseases, this is what they would use. Common in the 1800s, this device was unbearably painful and usually resulted in permanent speech impediments.

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