Last week doctors performed an emergency appendectomy on my seven-year-old great-nephew. They swiftly diagnosed and treated his condition with minimally invasive surgery. The miracles of modern medicine!
But What Happened In the Olden Days?
Which got me to thinking about the treatment of appendicitis in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Was this condition an automatic death sentence?
The appendix is a small, seemingly unnecessary attachment to the bowels that can become infected and burst. My own experience of this ailment (my appendix ruptured and I spent ten days in the hospital with peritonitis) tells me that yes, prior to the very late nineteenth century, everyone who developed appendicitis died from it.
Here’s a brief history of surgical treatment of appendicitis. And here’s another that’s a bit longer. In short, the “appendix” was first described by Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1522, and the first appendectomy was performed at St. George’s Hospital in London in 1735!
The operating surgeon was a French Huguenot immigrant named Claudius Amyand. Recollect that during this era, surgeons were a different and lesser branch of medical practice. Surgeons had to actually touch patients to practice their healing arts, as opposed to the more refined Doctors of Medicine who could diagnose and order treatment from a distance.
This lengthier History of Appendicitis gives many more details about the development of treatments for this condition, and includes the stories of a few famous appendicitis victims, including King Edward VII.
And what’s more…
Appendicitis though often fatal is apparently not always a death sentence. Some people recover from the condition, especially now with the availability of antibiotics.
So, authors, appendicitis is a good way to quickly do away with an otherwise healthy character of any age. Or, we could have a character suffering with an ache in their lower right belly, someone with an iron constitution, who recovers. Anything is possible!
Images: Surgeon is from Stencil.com; Others, Wikimedia Commons. Picture of St. George’s Hospital is courtesy of WellcomeImages