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Amputation knife, Paris, France, 1701-1800

Made from steel with an ebony handle, this surgical knife was used for amputations. Its curved shape was typical of amputation knives of the period, when surgeons tended to make a circular cut through the skin and muscle around the bone before that was then cut with a saw. In time, the technique changed and the initial cutting left a flap of skin which could then be used to cover the exposed limb stump. A straight knife was found to be better for this technique, so curved amputation knives gradually disappeared in the 1800s. It is thought that this example was made by Vigneron, a surgical instrument maker in Paris, France, sometime in the 1700s. At this time, patients had at best only alcohol or herbal remedies for pain relief.

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    Glossary: amputation knife

    A broad-bladed knife used primarily for cutting large muscles during major amputations of limbs

    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

    Glossary: amputation

    Removal of part of, or a whole limb by surgery. Used to control pain or the spread of disease in the affected limb.