John Arderne, Medieval Proctologist

John Arderne was a fourteenth century surgeon with the enviable title, Father of Proctology. Arderne specialized in the surgical treatment of anal fistula (fistula in ano), a "condition where a large, painful lump appears between the base of the spine  and the anus" (Wikipedia), which he was able to excise in a dramatic, dangerous, and surprisingly successful procedure. A manuscript describing Arderne's method   -- with pictures! -- is featured in the Glasgow Special Collections Library:

The instruments depicted [above], from left to right, are: the 'sequere me' ('follow me') a flexible probe, so called because it was the guide to be followed by other instruments; a syringe; the 'Acus rostrata' or snouted needle, a grooved director along which the scalpel was passed; the 'fraenum Caesaris' or strong thread, a ligature that constricted the rectal side of the fistula; the 'tendiculum', which was used to keep the ligature taut whilst the fistula was being divided; another syringe. The 'cochlear' (or shield) is shown at the top; this was probably held by the surgeon's mate and was used to protect the rectum during the operation. At the bottom is another snouted needle accompanied by a razor like scalpel.

The various stages of the operation are shown [here], starting with the position Arderne recommended that a patient should be secured exposing the fistula (top right). The basic premise of the operation was to cleanly divide the fistula by means of a scalpel inserted along the snouted needle.

Arderne's method of operation certainly worked, but it was probably his simple and clean application of sponge pressure to arrest immediate haemorrhage, followed by conservative care of the wound (avoiding cauterising and powerful purgatives) that ensured his relatively high success rate.

The work goes on to discuss various complicated cases that Arderne dealt with, including that of a man from Northampton. Apparently he suffered from three fistula holes in his left buttock and three in his testicle. Arderne says he cured these by cutting through all the holes in the same operation. Since the fistula were deep, the poor man lost so much blood that he swooned; Arderne managed to stem the haemorrhaging with a sponge and made his patient sit in a chair until the blood flow ceased. After taking meat and drink, the man went to bed, slept soundly, and was healed within 14 weeks. In another case, Arderne claims that his patient made such a dramatic recovery that he was able ride some forty days after his operation.

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

The "lines" on the page are not lines, but are the text on the other side of the page.

I just wonder what his patient was riding 40 days after the operation.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)

I read Fanny Burney's account, and it sounds MUCH worse than the fistula surgery, even though it took place around 500 years later. Agh, I can see why she couldn't even talk about it for months after... and how would her husband have felt if he came home to find that she had died?
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
"anesthesiologists are the highest-paid specialty among doctors. now we know why."

Given the alternatives, I for one am willing to pay top dollar for a good anesthesiologist. Fortunately, I haven't had need for an anus-thesiologist... Yow!
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
"so, was proctology invented before or after anesthesiology?"

Long, long before. Anesthesiology came along in the nineteenth century with the invention of ether.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"John Arderne, Medieval Proctologist"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More