Chainsaws Were Originally Invented For Helping With Childbirth, Not For Cutting Wood

You’re probably already clenching your knees together after reading the title, but yes, the chainsaw was originally invented to assist in childbirth. Before the common use of the caesarian section, all babies had to be passed through the birth canal. Which certainly makes sense.

But, as we know, babies can become obstructed in the there if they are breech or too large. When babies couldn’t fit through or get stuck in the pelvis, the cartilage and ligaments (and in extreme cases, the bone) of the pelvic region were removed to create more space for the baby. This is called a “symphysiotomy“.

The procedure was originally performed by hand using a small knife and saw to cut through the cartilage of the pelvic joint. This is usually done under local anesthesia and performed in the second stage of labor in order to open up the needed region. The recovery, however, is quite painful, and National Institutes of Health state that patients will be able to walk (painfully) after two to 14 days from the surgery. However, back in the 18th century, anesthesia was not readily available and medical knowledge wasn’t as in-depth as it is now. During that time, delivering babies could go wrong quickly, so doctors had to widen the pelvic area ASAP to save the mom and baby’s lives, even if this meant cutting into the cartilage and bone.

Now, if you’re already squirming, we’re just getting to the chainsaw part. Two doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, invented the chainsaw in the 1780s to make the removal of pelvic bone easier and less time-consuming during childbirth. It was powered by a hand crank and looked like a modern-day kitchen knife with little teeth on a chain that wound in an oval. We’re sure you’re envisioning those loud things that can hack up trees in seconds, but thankfully this one is a little bit less scary and looks more like a medical tool.

Still, anything with the word chainsaw, knife, saw, or blade coming at your downstairs in a completely conscious surgery is terrifying! Here is the first surgical chainsaw used for those symphysiotomies:

Via Sabine Salfer

The chainsaw was soon used for other bone cutting operations and amputations in the surgical room. It then evolved into a woodworking tool when people noticed how quickly and easily it was to get through, well, anything. It became larger and more powerful and eventually grew to be the monster we know today.

Symphysiotomies are no longer performed because cesarian section procedures have been deemed safer. Critics of symphysiotomy, especially in Ireland, state that it has left women with life-long pain and emotional trauma. However, it is still used in some cases depending on the position of the baby and the physiology of the mother.

Well, there you have it, the unexpected and super terrifying history of the chainsaw. Who would’ve known that the scariest power tool was originally intended for your most sensitive part? *shudder*

One comment

  • I think those doctors were mentally ill, using those kind of horrible equipment…They should have had Midwives take over instead..

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