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Friday, 23 December 2016

Ambroise Paré

Ambroise Paré was born in 1510 in Bourg-Hersent in north-western France. His father was a country artisan.

As a youth, Paré was apprenticed to his older brother, who was a barber-surgeon in Paris. He was also a pupil at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris hospital.

During the The Italian War of 1536-1538, firearms were a new weapon on the battlefield and were causing new and different wounds. To stop the bleeding, surgeons poured boiling oil to seal soldiers' wounds after amputations. This burned an already suffering soldier.

At Piedmont, during the 1536-1538 Italian campaign of Francis I, Paré was a young war surgeon just getting started on the battlefield. When he run out of boiling oil to pour over the soldiers wounds, he improvised and used an old Roman technique making up a mix of egg yolks, oil of roses and turpentine. The next morning he was surprised to see those soldiers with the mix he made up were much better than the soldiers who had been scalded.


Paré was a keen observer and did not allow the beliefs of the day to supersede the evidence at hand. He noted that bandages, soothing lotions and ointments were a more effective treatment than the burning with boiling oil or red-hot iron cures for gunshot wounds. Paré proved that tying blood vessels was an effective way of stopping hemorrhages and he recognized the necessity of keeping wounds clean.

The master-surgeon devised sophisticated artificial hands and arms for wounded soldiers, which mimicked the movements of the natural limbs, including an artificial hand with fingers moved by cogwheels, which worked so well a handless cavalryman was able to grasp his horse's reins.

Ambroise Paré Posthumous (fantasy) portrait by William Holl

In 1552, Paré became the official royal surgeon to Henry II of France, but was unable to cure the king's fatal blow to the head, which he received during a tournament seven years later. Paré stayed in the service of the kings of France to the end of his life, also serving Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III.

Paré wrote his first book based on his experiences treating soldiers on the battlefield in 1545. Methods of Treating Wounds was written in French as he did not speak Latin. The surgeon wrote several other books and in 1675  a collection of Paré's works was published at Paris.

He was severely criticized by the Faculty of Physicians. Etienne Gourmelen, the dean of the Faculty, stated no books on medicine could be published except through the Faculty of Physicians. However, Paré had the support of the king so his books sold without the Faculty.

The title page of Ambroise Paré's Oeuvres.

Paré was sympathetic to the Huguenot cause, though he seems to have kept appearances of being Catholic to avoid danger. On August 24, 1572, the day of the St.Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Paré's life was saved when King Charles IX locked him in a clothes closet.

Paré died in Paris on December 20, 1590 from natural causes in his 80th year.

Paré, attributed his success with his patients to the fact that "I treated them, God cured them".

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