For centuries surgeons have been purposefully cutting holes in people trying to heal them.


Before anesthesia, antibiotics, and Lister’s germ theories surgery often meant a slow and painful death from infection. Putting things into perspective, more people died in the US Civil War from infection than from direct strike of a weapon. Purposefully cutting into people was extraordinarily dangerous.

Worse, surgeons tended to use blood-stained clothing. Bloodstains, in the 19th century and before, demonstrated surgical experience. In an era where surgery very likely led to death, with immeasurable suffering along the way due to the lack of painkillers, patients did anything to improve their chances.

Georg Kelling

In 1901, a half-century after the discovery of anesthesia and Lister’s germ-theory but before antibiotics, German doctor Georg Kelling theorized the possibility of using specialized tools to perform surgeries through tiny incisions. By minimizing the surface area open, Dr. Kelling thought, the risk of infection would also be minimized, and patient survival rates increased.

Kelling experimented on dogs, performing surgeries through small openings. Due to his lack of modern instrumentation, especially micro-cameras, and fiber-optic cables, the experiments were dangerous and crude. Still, Kelling the basic idea was recorded for posterity. As technology improved, physicians returned to operating on small holes.

Despite that antibiotics, discovered decades after Kelling’s work, thwarted infection large surgical holes still presented problems. Laparoscopy, the process of making a small incision then using specialized fiber-optic cables for lighting and vision, eventually took off. Today, Laparoscopy is common. Post-operative pain is reduced and patients are often released the same day as surgery. The primary problem with Laparoscopy is many surgeries do not work in a small incision. For example, it is impossible to perform a Cesarean Section and remove a fetus through a small hole. Despite these challenges, Laparoscopy has vastly decreased the time, cost, and pain related to countless surgeries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *