Worlds of David Darling > Children's
Encyclopedia of Science > Health Revolution > Introduction
THE HEALTH REVOLUTION:
Surgery and Medicine in the Twenty-first Century
a book in the Beyond 2000 series by David Darling
In times past the more
blood a surgeon got on his gown, the more highly he was regarded. Since
there were no anesthetics to numb patients or make them unconscious, even
simple operations were incredibly painful. Surgeons worked as fast as they
could in an effort to prevent their patients simply dying of shock. Often,
the surgeons took gruesome pride in being able to saw off diseased limbs
in a matter of seconds. This earned them the common nickname "sawbones."
A range of primitive-looking tools that would have seemed more at home in
a butcher's hands were all that the surgeon had to work with, and cleanliness
was considered unimportant. Many patients who survived their operations
died shortly afterward because their wounds became infected.
Thankfully, the days of the sawbones are long gone. Patients today are given
effective anesthetics, and operating rooms are kept scrupulously clean.
Surgical personnel wear sterilized gowns, masks, and boots, and go through
a meticulous "scrubbing up" procedure before donning sterile surgical gloves.
All instruments are made germ-free by being placed in an autoclave, a small
oven that bathes them in super-hot stem.
But until recently many of the tools of the early surgeons – with
minor improvements – were still used for most operations. Only with
the last 15 years or so has surgery begun to be transformed by high-technology
devices. Among these are precision lasers for making bloodless cuts, special
flexible probes and tools that can be passed through button-sized holes
into the patient's body, and instruments for doing operations on a microscopic
Other breakthroughs have been made in the field of spare-part surgery. Every
year, doctors replace an increasing number of body parts with artificial
substitutes. The techniques for carrying out organ transplants are also
being improved and extended.
Great strides have been made in the methods and machinery designed to save
people's lives. And some particularly exciting developments have taken place
in the technology of scanning equipment used to look closely at internal
parts of the human body for early signs of diseases such as cancer.
Not surprisingly, given these advances, surgeons today can successfully
operate to cure all sorts of complaints that not so long ago would have
been difficult or impossible to treat. Many more advancements in surgery
will take place in the years ahead as new instruments, materials, and techniques
are developed. The revolution in the hospital and the operating room has