Ambroise Pare (1510-1590)

Ambroise Pare was a French Barber Surgeon. Born of poor parents in Laval, France.

Pare received his early education from a parish priest, and then went on to be an apprentice to a Barber Surgeon for 13 years. His first real position was “Resident Dresser” at the Paris Hotel Dieu, which at the time rivalled any teaching hospital in Europe for its reputation in surgery.

In 1536 he joined the French Army. Some months after joining he took part in his first campaign, at Turin. During the bloody battle of Turin, Pare was greatly disturbed by the suffering of the wounded.

After entering the city he went into a stable to rest, feed and water his horse. What he saw when entering the stable were several lifeless soldiers on the floor. There were also three wounded propped against the wall. Their faces were completely disfigured. They could not see, hear or speak and their clothes were still smouldering from the gunpowder that had scorched them.  While Pare was trying to comfort the retched wounded, a soldier walked in and asked Pare if it was at all possible for him to cure them, to that a sad Pare replied “no”. The soldier then walked over to the three wounded men, and calmly slit their throats.

Pare rebuked the man calling him a cowardly villain. The soldier answered him by saying

“I pray to God that if ever I was in such a state as those poor fellows, that someone would do the same to me so that I would not suffer as they did."

During Pares career with the French army, he observed that when he treated patients with gunshot wounds by using the conventional treatment at the time, which was to pour boiling oil into the wound, the patients endured unbelievable agony, some died in agony. Pare was very distraught to see these brave helpless souls being put through such torture, and the echo of their agonising screams used to haunt him, and give him nightmares. One day whilst treating casualties after the battle of Susa Pass, Pare ran out of Elder oil. He decided to just to dress the wounds, but he first applied anointment made up of turpentine, egg yolk and rose oil. Arising the next morning, he expected the patients that he dressed with the ointment either suffering from great pain, or dead. He was astonished to find that these patients had a quiet night, in stark comparison to those who had their wounds treated in the conventional way with boiling elder oil; they had their usual agonising night. Pare was heard to remark, “Je le pansay; Dieu le guarit”, which when translated into English means, I dressed and God healed.

After that particular experience Pare vowed never again to use boiling oil. , Saying, “I will abandon this miserable way of burning and roasting and boiling.”

Pare was also one of the first to ligate the main vessels avoiding the use of the hot iron, which was the accepted method at the time. Although the ancient Indians, Celsus and Galen ligated vessels, it was not a common accepted practice. Pares contribution to pain relief was to describe and document the effectiveness of nerve compression to relieve some of the agonising pain at amputation. 




Ken True History of Surgery and Anaesthesia