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Monday, March 28, 2016

Surgery in the Old Days

Surgery in the old days had a very poor success rate. This is a doctor's amputation kit from 1822, it isn't much different from the tools used by the hero in my historical, PATRIOT'S PRIDE. My story is set in 1784, and the hero, Derrick Fortune, is very familiar with the use of the saw. He attended lectures at the School of Medicine in Philadelphia. However, when the Revolutionary War broke out, he and most of his fellow students along with the faculty  were pressed into service to tend to the wounded.

Derrick was quick with the saw, but despite his best efforts many of his patients died. In fact, only a third of those who went through an amputation lived. They died of infection. No one knew about bacteria in those days. (You can read a brief overview here:

After the war, Derrick decides to go to England to study with John Hunter, a renowned surgeon. (You can read a brief summary of John Hunter's life here: Derrick hopes to find a way to prevent sepsis and he believes science holds the key.

It is on the ship that Derrick meets Margaret. The two clash immediately since she, like many of her female counterparts during that time, used herbs and various concoctions to aid in healing family members. She abhorred bloodletting. He believed in its efficacy in many diseases.

I have a board at Pinterest with more examples of Antique Medical equipment. You can find it here:
Follow Penelope's board Antique Medical Apparatus on Pinterest.

You can read more about PATRIOT'S PRIDE at


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Unknown said...

Very interesting. I'm doing lots of medical research for my current story where the hero is a Civil War surgeon. It is truly amazing that anyone survived surgery in those days before they knew about germs and bacteria.

Penelope Marzec said...


Yes, it was amazing that anyone survived. The ones who lived must have had powerful immune systems.