Surgeons were once barbers

…and not butchers. That’s what our teaching doctor/surgeon (who’s also the dean of the university) told us when we first started our surgery posting. He was giving us this brief history on medicine, particularly in the area of surgery. Did you know that in those days – several hundred years ago (actually.. 500 years to be exact), the only people who had utensils that were sharp enough to operate were the barbers.. umm.. with their knives and all, and so the barbers eventually became part-time surgeons, cutting up and healing small wounds… eventually, some barber-surgeons decided to stop cutting hair.. and ventured solely into the business of surgery – and became full-time surgeons. And because they wanted to be good at what they do, these clever surgeons decided to steal bodies – from graves, the streets, the slum…whatever bodies they could get their hands on, to cut them up and study the anatomy and structure of the inner body. As he spoke on this, I’m reminded of a movie which was made centered very much on this theme – though I can’t quite remember the title of the movie. I think it was about an anatomist who kidnapped bodies so that the medical students could cut them apart to study, to learn, to observeΒ ..uhh..something like that. πŸ˜›
Have you ever noticed some swirly colourful cylindrical thing that hangs outside practically every barber shop? Ah.. bet you never knew why such a functionless thing exist, did you? πŸ™‚ Well.. at least I thought it was functionless before, only used for mere decoration by barbers to attract attention of passersby. Nuh uh. Behind it is a great symbol of a history of an occupation which comprised of healing the sick and making people’s hair look stylish πŸ™‚ Y’see, back in those days…there was a belief that one was sick simply because there was bad blood which flowed through the person’s body, and so, the only way of making the person well, was of course, to drain the bad blood out. And who else, but none other that the heroic barber with his scissors/knife at hand to cut the vein and allow the blood seemingly bad to ooze out. You may have noticed that when you’re required to draw blood out or when you donate blood, you’re required to either clench your hand into a fist, or made to grasp a rod in your hand. This is important so that your vein distends..enlarges which makes it easier to detect the vein to poke a needle through, or in this case to slice the vein.
Once the blood is drained out, the only way to stop one from losing more unnecessary blood was to tie the wound up tightly with a long cloth. This of course, stains the cloth red. So once upon a time, the barber-surgeons thought they needed some advertisement to tell the people in their town that they provide vein-slicing services too, other than their hair trimming business. So what they did was this: hang the rod outside their door post with the cloths used to tie the bleeding wound around that rod as a symbol of their life-saving act. Soon enough, that rod wrapped around blood-stained cloths evolved into this commercialized machinery, which twirls and flashes light πŸ˜‰ But then of course, don’t be fooled.. barbers today don’t slice veins anymore πŸ™‚
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