A history of looking ahead

A history of looking ahead

***** Have you ever put much thought into the first prosthesis? Have you ever thought about the people who came before, who lived with limb loss and no alternatives, who dealt with the prejudices and shame of their condition because of a lack of understanding and acceptance? A fascinating article from Gizmodo earlier this month looks at the history of prosthetics and artificial limbs, tracing the history of some of the pioneers who first made strides in developing better prosthetics. According to the article, amputation was one of the first-recorded surgeries, mentioned in the 4th century BC in “On Joints,” one of the writings of Hippocrates (ever heard of the Hippocratic oath?). Improvements in preventing blood loss made amputation possible, so patients didn’t bleed to death as a result of the procedure. In more modern times, further medical improvements – including the use of pain-relieving measures and anesthesia, plus infection prevention  – allowed amputations to become more commonplace when limbs could not be saved. Stewart Emmens, the curator of Community Health at the Science Museum in London, told Gizmodo: “The control of a number of associated factors–blood loss, pain, and infection prevention–has been key to greatly improving the survival chances of the amputee . . . Then, as now, the procedure was often viewed as a failure of treatment.” Some of the earliest prosthetics were constructed of wood and metal. They were heavy, stiff and cumbersome. Some made movements difficult and noisy. But they could still be life-changers. James Edward Hangar was an 18-year-old Confederate soldier in the Civil War when his left leg was irreparably damaged by a cannonball launched by Union soldiers. He was...