The Kitab al-Tasrif’s volume on surgery was translated into Latin and became the standard source of surgical practice for the rest of Europe for the next 500 years! Al-Zahrawi specialized in curing disease by cauterization, and he invented a remarkably diverse set of surgical instruments (see the figure below), including those needed for the inspection of the interior of the urethra (ouch!), as well as for removing foreign objects from the throat, the ear, and other sensitive orifices, and even for assisting in the safe delivery of breeched-babies. If you happen to visit Córdoba, an exhibit of his instruments can be found on the Calahorra Tower Museum across the Guadalquivir River from the Great Mosque. He routinely performed surgery for the treatment of head injuries, skull fractures, spinal injuries, subdural effusions, and headaches, and gave the first clinical description of an operative procedure for hydrocephalus by surgically draining excess intracranial fluid. Who knew?!
Not always properly credited for his massive contributions to medicine (go figure!), al-Zahrawi's described what would later become known as “Kocher’s method” for treating a dislocated shoulder, and the “Walcher position” in obstetrics, still standard techniques in use today. He described how to ligature blood vessels (using a suture to shut off the flow of blood) almost 600 years before Ambroise Paré, and was the first to explain the hereditary nature of hemophilia.
John D Cressler