Ambroise Pare (1510-1590), the great French surgeon is remembered for the radical change he brought about in the practice of surgery. The innovation was abandoning the cautery. His life was an example of close observation, application, and perseverance. He was the son of a barber at Laval, in Maine. His parents were too poor to send him to school. He was placed as a foot-boy to a parish priest in the village with the hope that he might pick up some knowledge for himself. But the priest kept him too busy grooming his mule, and other menial office work that he found no time for studies and learning.
Then it happened that a celebrated lithotomist named Cotot came to the village to operate on one of the priest's bretheren. Pare was present at the operation, and later he completely devoted himself to the art of surgery. After leaving the priest's household service,Pare apprenticed himself to a barber-surgeon, named Vialot. Very soon he started performing minor operations. After four year's experience Pare went to Paris to study at the School of Anatomy and Surgery, and maintained himself by also working as a barber. Soon he became a master barber-surgeon, and was appointed in-charge of the French Army under Monmorenei.
Pare was not the one to follow the set rules of surgery of the day, but diligently brought in a rational scheme of treatment of disease.
Before Pare's time the war-wounded suffered much at the hands of the surgeons. To stop bleeding from gunshot wounds, the brutal surgeons resorted to dressing them with hot oil. Hemorrhage was controlled by applying red-hot iron to the wound, followed by amputation performed with a red=hot knife. First Pare also followed this approved method of treatment. But once he ran short of boiling oil, and substituted it with an emolient (soothing) application. All through the following night Pare was afraid that he had possibly adopted the wrong treatment. But in the morning he was greatly relieved on finding that his patients were more comfortable than with the usual treatment. This marked the origin of Pare's greatest improvements in the treatment of war-wounds. Thus emolient-treatment was followed in all future cases.
Next, a still more important improvement was the employment of the ligature in tying arteries to stop bleeding, instead of the cautery. Pare's practices were then sharply denounced by his professional bretheren, and labelled as dangerous and unprofessional. But the best answer was the success of the procedures followed by him. The wounded soldiers also found Pare to be very careful and affectionate towards them in their hours of pain. Pare usually left his patients with the words, "I have dressed you; may God cure you".
After three years of active service as an army-surgeon Ambrioise Pare returned to Paris, and was appointed as surgeon to the King. The rest of his life was spent in study, in piety, and in good deeds. Finally, he recorded his surgical experience in twenty-eight books. Pare died in peace, at a ripe age, and with full honours.