History of Ostomy Surgery ~ The Early Days: Poor Prognosis for Blockages
Until the late 1700’s, a bowel blockage was almost always fatal. Since physicians had no knowledge of antibiotics or sterile techniques, bowel surgery carried with it a high risk of infection. Physicians avoided any surgery that entered the peritoneum, the membrane that encloses the abdominal organs, where infections were particularly dangerous. Instead, they prescribed treatments such as consumption of the heavy metal mercury, laxatives, enemas, and horseback riding to help move stool through the digestive system. These did little to help the patient’s suffering!
The First Colostomy
In 1776, a French surgeon named M. Pilore performed the first ostomy surgery after all other treatment attempts had failed to help his patient. Without treatment, the patient’s bowel blockage was certain to prove fatal. Pilore attempted surgery was a last resort attempt to treat the blockage.
To perform the surgery, Pilore made an opening through the patient’s abdominal wall into the caecum, the first part of the large intestine. He pulled the free end of the bowel through the patient’s abdomen and stitched the bowel to the patient’s skin, creating a stoma where partially digested food could leave the patient’s body. The first colostomy surgery was complete.
After surgery, the patient used what was probably the first ostomy appliance: a sponge held to the opening with an elastic bandage to absorb any leakage. Without access to today’s appliances, the patient opted to keep his bowel clear by performing regular enemas.
This first colostomy surgery successfully bypassed the patient’s bowel blockage. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the patient died of an infection in his small bowel, perhaps complicated by mercury poisoning. An autopsy recovered two pounds of mercury in his bowel!
Colostomy: A Procedure for Pioneers
Over the next century, the risk of infection continued to make any abdominal surgery extremely dangerous—but for some patients, surgery was the only option. A few brave physicians continued to attempt surgery to treat bowel blockages that would be fatal otherwise. Between 1716 and 1839, twenty-seven colostomy surgeries were recorded, but only six of the patients survived. Ostomy surgery remained a procedure of last resort until better medical techniques made such surgeries safer.
Today, modern surgical techniques make ostomy an accepted—and much safer—procedure, a viable way to treat conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate waste. Post-surgical care has also greatly improved. Today’s inconspicuous, odor-barrier pouches are a far cry from the first sponge and elastic “appliance!” Today’s ostomy surgeries allow countless people suffering from bowel blockage, Crohn’s disease, and other intestinal ailments to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
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