In the medieval Europe, surgeons on the front line, were treating patients by pouring hot oil into their wounds and cauterizing with red hot iron. Hot iron stops bleeding but destroys the tissues around the wound. The purpose of pouring hot oil was to remove the lead poison. Because surgeons were thinking that the wounded who was shot might die from lead poisoning. In fact, at that time surgeons were not physicians but barbers, and all surgeons started their career as barbers. They didn’t receive a medical education.
In 1536, the French war surgeon Ambroise Paré, who experienced the war for the first time in Turin, was treating the injured soldiers by pouring hot oil into their wounds and cauterizing with red hot iron. But there were too many wounded and the young Paré had no prior experience. He couldn’t help all the wounded until it gets dark. Paré got up early in the morning to help others whom he couldn’t treat but realized that something was strange. These soldiers were in better condition than those who were treated. He thought something is wrong and stopped using this treatment after that day.
Another intervention to patients in the war was amputation. When soldiers get injured in their arm, the surgeon was cutting off their arm immediately because there was no other way to deal with infection at that time. There were no anesthetic drugs and besides that the surgeons had to be fast because they were so many wounded on the battlefields. Dominique Jean Larrey in Napoleon’s Grand Armée, was able to perform leg amputation every 4 minutes.
In 1850, the importance of infection began to be realized. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, who made the first scientific study on the ways of transmission of infection, confined in a lunatic asylum when he said that the surgeons have to wash their hands before the performing a surgery. But eventually people understood the importance of hygiene. Followed by the invention of anesthetic drugs and the discovery of antibiotics, surgery has entered into a golden age.