Terrifying Vintage Surgical Tools

Early medicine was scary to begin with, considering the lack of understanding the human body and the nature of illness. But let’s not forget the strange and terrifying old surgical tools and the lack of anesthetic. With names like the tonsil guillotine and the scarificator, surgery looked and sounded more like medieval torture.

Here are some of the surgical tools you would not have wanted to see the doctor walk in with:

Bullet Extractor (1500s)
Elongated bullet extractors could reach bullets embedded deeply in the patient’s body. Extractors like this one had a screw tip that could be inserted in the wound and lengthened to pierce the bullet so that it could be pulled out.
Bullet extractor vintage surgical tool

Amputation Knife (1700s)
Knives used for amputations during the 18th century were typically curved, because surgeons tended to make a circular cut through the skin and muscle before the bone was cut with a saw. By the 1800s, straight knives became more popular because they made it easier to leave a flap of skin that could be used to cover the exposed stump.
Amputation knife vintage surgical tool

Artificial Leech (1800s)
Bloodletting with leeches was such a popular treatment for a range of medical conditions that an artificial leech was invented in 1840 and was used frequently in eye and ear surgery. The rotating blades would cut a wound in the patient’s skin, while the cylinder would be used to produce a vacuum that sucked up the blood.

Cervical Dilator (1800s)
This instrument was used to dilate a woman’s cervix during labor, with the amount of dilation measured on the scale by the handle. Such dilators fell out of favor because they often caused the cervix to tear.
Cervical dilator vintage surgical tool

Tonsil Guillotine (1860s)
This method of removing tonsils worked much like a traditional guillotine, slicing off the infected tonsils. This “double guillotine” design meant that both tonsils could be removed at the same time. Tonsil guillotines were replaced by forceps and scalpels in the early 20th century due to the high rate of hemorrhaging and the imprecise nature of the device, which often left tonsil remnants in the mouth.
Tonsil guillotine vintage surgical tool

Circumcision Knife (1770s)
Ritual circumcision is performed around the world in varying extents and for varying reasons, but few instruments used in the process are as intimidating as this European knife from the 18th century.
Circumcision knife vintage surgical tool

Lithotome (1740s-1830s)
This lithotome was used to cut the bladder in order to remove stones. The shaft contained a hidden blade that was inserted into the bladder and then released using a spring handle.
Lithotome vintage surgical tool

Tobacco Smoke Enema (1750s-1810s)
The tobacco enema was used to infuse tobacco smoke into a patient’s rectum for various medical purposes, primarily the resuscitation of drowning victims. A rectal tube inserted into the anus was connected to a fumigator and bellows that forced the smoke towards the rectum. The warmth of the smoke was thought to promote respiration, but doubts about the credibility of tobacco enemas led to the popular phrase “blow smoke up one’s ass.”
Tobacco smoke enema vintage surgical tool

Hysterotome/Metrotome (1860s-90s)
This hysterotome or metrotome was used to amputate the cervix during a hysterectomy.
Hysterotome or metrotome vintage surgical tool

Hirtz Compass (1915)
The Hirtz compass was used to accurately determine where bullets were located in the body so that they could then be removed with precision.
Hirtz compass vintage surgical tool

Scarificator (1910s-20s)
Scarificators were used in bloodletting. The spring-loaded blades in this device would cut into the skin, and a special rounded glass cup could be applied over the wound. When warmed, it would help draw the blood out at a faster rate.

Vaginal Speculum (1600s)
Specula have been used for thousands of years to allow doctors better vision and access to the vaginal area (or other body cavities) by expanding after insertion. This 17th century European example, which appears to use a cranking motion to expand, is more ornate and intimidating than most.
Vintage vaginal speculum

Trephine (1800s)
This trephine was a hand-powered drill with a cylindrical blade that was used to bore into the skull. The spike in the center was used to start the procedure and to hold the blade in place while cutting.

Arrow Remover (1500s)
Not much is known about this tool, but it is hypothesized that it was inserted into the wound in a contracted position, with the central shaft used to grasp the arrow. The blades, which appear to have their sharp edges facing outward, were then expanded using the scissor-like handles, thus expanding the flesh around the arrow to prevent the arrowhead from ripping through the meat as it was pulled out.
Arrow remover vintage surgical tool

Hemorrhoid Forceps (1800s)
These forceps were used to grasp a hemorrhoid between the blades and apply pressure to stop the blood supply, causing the hemorrhoid to drop off.

Amputation Saw (1600s)
While some surgeons chose to flaunt their wealth with elaborately decorated saws like this, the crevices in the intricate engravings proved to be a breeding ground for germs.
Amputation saw vintage surgical tool

Mouth Gag (1880s-1910s)
This wooden, screw-shaped mouth gag would be inserted into an anesthetized patient’s mouth to keep the airway open.
Mouth gag vintage surgical tool

Skull Saw (1830s-60s)
This hand-cranked saw’s blades were used to cut through sections of the skull, allowing for access by other instruments.
Skull saw vintage surgical tool

Hernia Tool (1850s)
This unique tool was used after the restoration of a hernia. It was inserted into the body near the affected area and left there for a week to produce scar tissue that would help seal off the hernia.

Ecraseur (1870s)
This ecraseur was used to sever hemorrhoids and uterine or ovarian tumors. The chain was looped over the mass and tightened using the ratchet, stopping the circulation of blood to the area.

28 replies
  1. Avatar
    nuelchill says:

    Gosh! are this tools real?

    In the past years, i have experienced a bone marrow surgery. I wouldn’t want to know the nature of tools the doctors used on me because i was deep gone in sleep.

    But seeing this article and the nature tools, if i’m asked to return for another surgery, heaven knows i won’t see the four walls of the theater. LOL.

    Nice post though!

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Darr Sigilman says:

    None of these devices, I don’t think, would have been so intimidating if anesthesia had been available and had been used because with anesthesia there would not have been any pain. But some of these devices were even before anesthesia was invented.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Tere says:

      That was dentistry and often done by an unqualifed man, often a Barber. Also Barbers were often Surgeons. The Red White Pole often seen outside a Barbers, was the sign of the Barber Surgeon.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Kevin says:

    I can see in 100 years people will review today’s medical practices and as great as it seems today, They will call us Barbarians too

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Devi Welch says:

      Actually I have a new old stock from mid1800s &set of round cups.Bought them on ebay.Can’t wait to use them! I’m not lying it’s true ebay has lots of them .Apparently some Europeans use them with some great results.Supposed to be very helpful with inflammations especially that from arthritis.

      Reply

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