Napoleonic Surgery

Human Element
Deaths in British Army Hospitals: 1812-1815
Life in the British Navy
Napoleonic Surgery
Medical Hygiene
Medical Evacuations
"The Flying Ambulance"
Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey
Bonaparte's Demise
British Medical Services

Thanks to brilliant surgeons such as Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, battlefield surgery in the French Army was the best in the World!

    Surgery was horrible.  Imagine being chained down to a table while an inexprienced surgeon tried his hardest to cut through a leg with only a dull bone saw.  That scenario is all what is needed to send shivers through people's spines.  
    In reality, amputation was the choice for soldiers who suffered badly broken bones.  Otherwise they had little little chance of saving the injured limb.  Before this conflict, surgeons would usually wait up to 20 days after the soldier received the wound.  They thought that the wounded should have a little time to recover before the surgery.  This was incorrect.  This caused only more pain and more men died waiting for the planned surgery date.  When the time came to operate, there was a hierarchial system of surgery order:  The officers first, then the soldiers, then the captured enemy; regardless of injury. 
    Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, arguably the man behind modern surgery, stressed the best way to amputate was immediatly after the soldier was wounded.  He said and was correct that, while the man's body was still numb from shock, you could amputate with ease.  This is because when the brain is in shock the muscles relax, and there is lower blood pressure.  Thus making it easier to cut through the flesh with less pain and blood.   So great of a surgeon was Larrey that he could amputate an arm in 17 seconds, and an leg in one minute.   All with a low mortality rate.  There is no question why the French soldiers and even the enemy adored and respected him.
    After the revolution, the new government viewed everyone equal, thus introducing new systems.  The man behind the new system, called the Triage, was the Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey.  Larrey pioneered the Triage system along with "The Flying Ambulance".   The triage system is a simple system used by medical and emergency personnel to ration limited medical resources when the number of injured needing care exceeds the resources available to perform care so as to treat the greatest number of patients possible.  Larrey used this method to quickly evauluate and categorize the wounded in battle and then evacuate those requiring the most urgent medical attention.  He instituted these practises while battle was in progress and triaged patients with no regard to rank or army.
     To do surgery, the wounded soldier had a leather tourniquet tied about 8cm above the place where the cutting would be done; which would stop some of the bleeding.  Then a knife was used to slice down to the bone, arteries pinned out of the way and then the surgeon would begin the dirty work with bone saw.
     There were two main types of saws used by the surgeon, a bigger one for cutting through the thigh bone, and a smaller one for the lesser bones and arms.  Usually, the sawing would take under minute to finish.  Then, the arteries were sewn up and linen bandages were applied to the wound.   Finally after everything was complete they would place a wool cap over the stump.
      When in surgery, ordinary soldiers bit down on a piece of wood, while the officers were offered rum or alchohol.  This would help with the pain.

Surgery Kit

March 2005

Term Project
Abraham Schreier
Mr. Crowley
Honors World History
March 2005