When you think about it, surgery is downright bizarre — humans cut into one another all the time to get rid of deadly diseases and excess body fat.
But the fact we don’t marvel about this on a daily basis shows how advanced surgery has become. Over the last 100 years or so, surgery has become a safe and reliable tool, not to mention a necessary component of public health.
Here’s a taste of what that journey looked like.
As early as 1906, doctors were performing fairly complex operations on patients. Rudimentary x-rays allowed unprecedented views inside the body, though no precautions were taken to avoid harmful exposure.
Other procedures around the time were less scientifically sound, such as the practice of regulating blood pressure with full-body suits as doctors administered infusions of medicine into the neck.
That's not to say the rooms for these grisly operations weren't impressive. Take the Ellis Island Hospital's operating room, which, even in 1909, looked fairly modern.
The surgeries themselves, however, were often brutal. With a poor understanding of anesthesia and none of the delicate tools available today, operations were forceful and traumatic.
By 1921, anesthesia was used during procedures like the tumour-removal surgery depicted below. But records indicate that roughly one in 10 patients died on the table.
During the 20s, the equipment wasn't advanced enough for the intricate surgeries being performed. Physicians sometimes relied on rickety carts made of PVC pipes to support their operating tables.
The 1920s saw an advent of surgery clinics. Whereas doctors initially operated with just one or two nurses to assist them, now physicians worked in teams.
The most iconic images from this time period depict sample procedures performed in lecture halls, before an audience of rising doctors.
But medical innovation still had its pitfalls: This Braun inhaler was used to administer ether and chloroform. However, though chloroform was praised for its quick-acting effects, it was phased out in the 1930s because of its toxicity.
X-ray tubes were also common in the 1930s. Doctors enjoyed the ability to peer into people's bodies before needing to resort to surgery.
In the early 1940s, medical scientists learned to use localised x-rays and anesthesia on specific parts of the body. As a result, patients were treated to oral surgeries to relieve their stubborn tooth aches and pains.
The decade also brought new interest in extreme procedures, namely, lobotomies. Doctors started specializing in the practice of alleviating ailments by removing certain brain tissues altogether.
The tools that allowed for these surgeries were often just as macabre as the procedures they enabled. Consider the sturdy metal drill doctors used to bore two holes in a patient's skull before tissue removal.
As World War II broke out, surgery again saw great advancement. Doctors could essentially perform the same procedures in the field as they would at a hospital, all thanks to technology that didn't require them to stay rooted in an operating room.
In 1952, doctors performed the first surgery in which they successfully stopped and restarted the heart. It would later form the foundation for modern-day transplants.
Within a decade, at the height of the Vietnam War, doctors performed the first heart transplant. Unfortunately, healing was still an obstacle. The patient died from pneumonia just 18 days later.
The decade brought loads of technology into the operating room, with doctors manning control stations that looked fit for NASA. Operating rooms became the focal point of any successful hospital.
Operations that once posed risks of infection, such as wound repair, were routine by the 1970s. But now doctors wanted to go smaller: The decade saw the invention of laparoscopic, or minimally-invasive, surgery.
With minimally-invasive techniques on the rise, surgery entered the mainstream. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a booming interest in plastic surgery, as people realised operations could be a form of recreation, not just life-preservation.
Silicone implants, devised in the early 1980s, especially helped popularise breast augmentation surgery.
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