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Born in the sixth century B.C., Susruta was a descendant of the Vedic sage Viswamitra. He learnt surgery and medicine at the feet of Divodasa Dhanvantari in his hermitage at Varanasi. The chapter recalls one such surgery he performed.
A Midnight Visitor
It was midnight when Susruta was awakened by an injured traveller knocking on his door. The traveller had a bleeding disfigured nose and cried for help. He brought the visitor inside a spotless room that was lined with surgical equipment on the walls. Susruta used water and the juice of a healing plant to cleanse his face. Then, after offering him a glass of wine, he started getting ready for the procedure.
He removed a knife and a pair of forceps from the wall and used a flame to cut a piece of flesh from the stranger’s cheek. The liquor had dulled the man’s senses. Susruta carefully put two pipes into the stranger’s nostrils and transplanted the flesh to the deformed nose after bandaging the wound on the face.
As he moulded the flesh into shape, he dusted the nose with liquorice powder, red sandalwood, and an Indian barberry extract. The nose was then covered in cotton, some refined sesame oil was applied, and lastly a bandage was applied.
Before the traveller set out, he was given advice on what to do and what not to do, as well as a list of medications and herbs he should regularly take. He was also instructed to return for an examination a few weeks later.
Father of Plastic Surgery
Susruta restored a nose in this way about 26 centuries ago. And what he performed is not all that distinct from what a plastic surgeon would do today. In fact, Susruta is now acknowledged as the father of plastic surgery all over the world. The Susrutasamhita, his treatise, has extensive medicinal knowledge that is still relevant today. It showcases that in terms of medical knowledge, India was well ahead of the rest of the globe.
He was the first medical professional to support the procedure that is now known as a “caesarean.” He was a pro at treating fractures, removing kidney stones, finding fractures, and doing cataract surgeries. As the father of anaesthesia, he is also credited with the idea of giving wine to patients who are about to undergo surgery.
Susruta outlines 101 distinct categories of instruments in his work. The early versions of the spring forceps, dissection forceps, and dressing forceps used by modern surgeons may be found in his Samdamsa Yantras. Indeed, his method of naming surgical instruments after the animals or birds that they resemble in shape, such as crocodile forceps and hawksbill forceps, is still used today.
Susruta was an excellent teacher. He taught his students that knowledge of both theory and practice was necessary to become a good physician. He encouraged his students to practice on models and carcasses before performing surgery.