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".

Sources:
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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Halsted’s “Rules of Surgery”

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.


William S. Halsted

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Samuel J. Crowe

In my many years working with medical industry, surgeons, and surgery, I have heard many times that such and such surgical technique follows “Halsted’s Rules of Surgery”. The problem is that only two of these “rules” were mentioned and never did I receive an answer while working with Ethicon and Ethicon Endosurgery, and never did I receive an answer as to where could I find the reference regarding the other rules, if they even existed.

I recently read a great 1957 book by Samuel James Crowe, MD (1883-1952), titled “Halsted of John Hopkins; the man and his men”. Dr. Crowe lived for one year with Dr. William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922) and his wife as a medical student at John Hopkins. He was also an intern for Dr. Harvey Cushing, and although he wanted to follow Cushing into neurosurgery, Dr. Halsted placed him in charge of the newly created department of otolaryngology at John Hopkins, a position he did not want. Dr. Crowe went on to become a world-wide renown otolaryngologist.

Here are Halsted’s “Rules of Surgery” as explained by Dr. Crowe, based on Halsted’s research, experiments, and observations (with my own notes and comments):

1. Wounds are resistant to infection when no bits of tissue have been:

a. torn with clamps 
b. torn by the rough handling of retractors 
c. devitalized by hastily and carelessly applied ligatures

Note: this follows the ancient rule of “Primum Non Nocere”: first and foremost, do not harm

2. Wounds or parts rich in blood vessels usually heal without any visible granulation, even when no antiseptic precautions have been taken.

3. Incisions should be closed carefully and gently, layer by layer

4. The approximating sutures should never put the tissues under tension, since tension interferes with the blood supply and may cause necrosis

Note: Tension-avoidance surgical techniques follow this, one of the prime rules of surgery.

5. The end of the forceps used to pick up bleeding points should be small, to avoid crushing and destroying the vitality of surrounding tissues

Note: This observation led to the creation of fine, multiple toothed thumb forceps used today in cardiovascular surgery , such as the Cooley, DeBakey, Castaneda, etc. type forceps.

6. A drain is essential when there is necrotic tissue and infection

7. Silk should never be used in the presence of infection

Note: This makes sense. Since silk is an organic material, infected tissues will react to the presence of this extraneous material causing more inflammation, and the phagocytic cells in the tissues will destroy the silk and its capacity to hold the tissues together

8. The silk (suture) employed should never be coarser (larger gauge) than necessary and it is well to employ a suture a thread that is not stronger that the tissue it holds

9. A greater number of fine stitches is better than a few coarse ones

Note: This also makes sense. Halsted was known to be extremely meticulous and he could place a hundred stitches of fine silk thread where other surgeons would place a lesser number of coarser stitches. Using a larger number of fine stitches distributes the approximating tension of the sutures over a larger area, thus reducing the chance for suture dehiscence.

10. Avoid when possible the combined use of silk and catgut in a wound

11. For sewing up an abdominal wound, when it is necessary to take heavy deep stitches perforating skin and muscles, silver wire serves admirably

Note: Remember the times when these guiding principles where laid. Nylon, polypropylene, and other synthetic absorbable and non-absorbable sutures had yet to be discovered. Today the same dictum would probably say “For sewing up an abdominal wound, when it is necessary to take heavy deep stitches perforating skin and muscles, a synthetic non-absorbable suture material serves admirably”

It must be noted that Halsted never called the above the “rules of surgery”, rather they are observations that have become guiding principles. These have influenced the world of surgery to this day.

SIDE NOTE: It has been said many times that Dr. Halsted was the first to use rubber gloves. This is not true, Dr. Crowe says that “it was an evolution rather than a happy thought” and it involved his wife Caroline Hampton. This will be the subject of another article.