Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81

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The term [scalpel] arises from the Latin word [scalpellum], meaning “a small knife”. Celsus (c.25BC - c.50BC) in De Re Medicina, uses the term [scalpellus] to refer to a surgeon’s knike.

The use of knives in Medicine is very old. 10,000 year old Mesolithic skulls have been found with craniotomies made with flint stone knives. The first one to describe surgical knives in recorded history was Hippocrates of Cos (460 BC - 370 BC).

Surgical knives were developed in a multitude of shape and forms, some of them veritable works of art. These scalpels were made by cutlery makers on demand by surgeons and had a fixed blade that had to be sharpened constantly, as surgery requires a very sharp blade.

The invention of the disposable razor by King Gillette in 1904 changed this. In 1910, Dr. John Benjamin Murphy (1857 – 1916) invented a handle that could hold a single-sided or a double-sided safety razor blade.

The design was improved by the invention of a disposable, sterilized surgical blade that could be easily installed on a reusable, sterilizable metal handle. Today sterile, disposable handle-blade combination scalpels of varying shapes and sizes are available, ensuring the surgeon the sharpest scalpel every time.

1. “The surgical knife” Ochsner J. Tex Heart Inst J. 2009; 36(5): 441–443
2. "History of the Surgical Blade" Shuja, A. Indep Rev Oct-Dec 2012;14(10-12)
3. "Masters of the Scalpel: The History of Surgery"" Riedman SR, R MacNally 1962  

Images courtesy of 

Different scalpel models (Wikipedia)
    Different scalpel models

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