Rare books feature blood-curdling medical descriptions

Fabry von Hilden: cauterization
Image caption Ambroise Pare moved away from using cauterizing irons to stem bleeding after amputation

Battlefield surgery has come a long way since the 16th Century when soldiers had boiling oil poured on to gunshot wounds.

This barbaric but common treatment was believed to drive out the poisons thought to be associated with such wounds.

The Birmingham Medical Institute's library containing blood-curdling descriptions of this and other medical procedures is due to go under the hammer later this month in South Cerney, Gloucestershire.

The auction includes illustrated texts by three medical pioneers of the Renaissance - the Flemish-born anatomist Andreas Vesalius, the English physician William Harvey and the French surgeon Ambroise Pare.

Red-hot irons

Pare placed great emphasis on the surgeon's duty to reduce or avoid a patient's suffering.

During one occasion at the Siege of Turin in 1537 when he had run out of oil he treated a number of wounded soldiers with a mixture of egg yolk, oil of roses and turpentine.

Image caption Pare created many artificial limbs as well as surgical and dental instruments

"I could not sleep all that night for I was troubled in mind. I feared the next day I would find them dead," he wrote.

"Beyond expectation I found [them] free from vehement pain, to have had good rest and that their wounds were not inflamed.

"On the contrary, the others that were burnt with scalding oil were feverish and tormented with much pain and their wounds were swollen.

"When I had tried this many times in others I thought neither I nor any other ever should cauterize anyone wounded with gunshot."

A second excruciatingly painful practice Pare addressed was the cauterization of limbs with red-hot irons to stem the bleeding after amputations.

'Father of surgery'

"Pare introduced the ligature, tying off the blood vessels with catgut," said medical books specialist Chris Albury.

"He is widely considered to be the father of surgery and modern forensic pathology."

Away from warfare Pare advocated the method of turning the child in the mother's womb before delivery in certain cases, and he created numerous ingenious artificial limbs and surgical and dental instruments.

Not knowing Latin, he wrote many of his works in his native French. This meant it took a long time for his ideas to spread across Europe.

The sale on 18 April includes the French edition of his work from 1585 with nearly 400 woodcuts, and a partial autobiography relating to his journeys with armies into various countries.

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