Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Ambroise Paré, father of modern surgery

Trisha Sebastian
San Jose, California, United States

Ambroise Paré. Colored line engraving by C. Manigaud after E.J.C. Hamman. Wellcome Collection. 

As I stepped into the field hospital I was met at once by the smell rotting of human flesh. I had seen these people die every day, and I wished I could to do something to prevent so many dead bodies from piling up in the nearby cathedral graveyard. I wanted to return these soldiers to their homes, safe and knowing someone was out there to care for their injuries. Instead, I merely listened to the military generals drone on about how each soldier was a brave one and how his death was not in vain.

After the latest funeral, I went to visit my friend Guy de Chauliac. The man is a perpetual optimist. I sometimes think he is the most intelligent man I have met. But he never listens to me. Instead, he tries to teach me what he has learned in his long life, and I listen. We must never give up hope, he says, and we must make great discoveries. We must discover new ways of treating our patients. I agree and leave.

I return to the hospital. The military nurses brush past me. Rough winds cannot deafen the screaming tearing from the inside. I rush in, provoked by the familiar sound, and spot another soldier, Marty. He howls as a nurse pours hot oil over his burns. I gasp and pull the nurse and her hot oil bowl back. Marty breathes heavily and looks up at me. He grimaces, and I scowl down at his bloody and scorched arm. I take a damp cloth nearby and dab it softly. Marty grabs the cloth from me and screams into the rough texture. I promise I will find a solution in time. Something better than boiling ointment.

Marty grabs my arm with his boiled one. “I know I’m not going to make it. These boiling treatments are too severe.” I stop and begin to think. What would my friend de Chauliac think? You must try new things, new approaches.

The nurse grits her teeth. “You can’t take away my patient.” She stares at me and throws up her hands. “Fine. Who am I to stop a crazy dreamer? “

That day I changed my approach. I began to question everything. Why pour hot oil over an area that was already painful? I tried applying different medicines to Marty’s bruised skin.

Marty lifted a finger. “You haven’t tried the ointment.”

My hands shook, my finger slipped, and an entire bottle of ointment spilled over Marty’s arm. Marty yelped, then blinked. “This doesn’t hurt,” he said. I hugged Marty gleefully.

This was only the beginning. I began to try other things. I made many innovations. I stopped cauterizing wounds and instead applied a soothing balm made from egg yolks, rose oil, and turpentine. I was astonished to find the next morning that the men treated with the balm rested easily while those treated with cauterizing oil had fever and were in great pain, with swelling about the edges of their wounds. I learned to use ligatures in amputations, treatments for sucking chest wounds, and cures for chronic ulcers of the skin. I invented new instruments and surgical or dental appliances. I developed new approaches to old problems. I learned to practice surgery with procedures that heal the body without causing additional suffering. They now call me the father of modern surgery.

TRISHA SEBASTIAN has diverted into historical fiction for Hektoen International, in admiration of the medical stories they have published. Currently, she is focused on her dream career of becoming a forensic pathologist. Because of her interest, she created a fictional interpretation of how Ambrose Pare, a modern father in forensic pathology, advanced in the fields of surgery and medicine. 

Spring 2024



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