Medicine at the service of engineering: when the mechanical saw was invented to help in childbirth

The power saw is an invention that dramatically increases the capacity and efficiency of saw blades. But few people would think that this tool was invented not to cut wood, but bone and cartilage.

Yes, the mechanical saw, a curious and useful tool where they exist, the protagonist of many anecdotes in popular culture and scary stories, in reality, appeared as a medical element whose objective was none other than helping children to be born.

When two doctors invented a birthing power saw

Let's imagine the panorama at the end of the 18th century. Today, childbirth is still very hard for women, but at that time, it was not only hard, but very dangerous. Childbirth could be a source of infection, bleeding and a host of potentially lethal problems for mother and child (today, of course).

One of the great problems of childbirth was, and still is, when the child comes "inside out"; that is, with the legs in front. This causes the baby to become lodged in the birth canal, which can be fatal for both him and the mother. At the time, when the cesarean section could not be done, an operation known as a symphysiotomy was performed extensively.

Point 5, in black, is the pubic symphysis, which is divided into two

The symphysiotomy consists of cutting the cartilage of the pubic symphysis, dividing it in two. This allows the hip to open wider, allowing the birth canal to widen and the child to come out if it is stuck. Cutting bone and cartilage, however, is not an easy task.

For this reason, John Aitken decided to improve the tools of the intervention, for which he developed a very novel contraption for the time: a saw powered by a crank. Independently, James Jeffray came out a few years after Aitken with the same idea. In any case, the first mechanical saw in history emerged from their work.

Medicine at the service of engineering

Few will forget that this application has had a brutal impact on other aspects more related to engineering as practical as mechanical applications. Mechanized saws already existed before, but they were disc saws. This caused various problems. Firstly, the fact that they could not be easily used away from an energy source (water, heat, electricity). Another problem was his bad habit of jamming.

The invention of the chainsaw was quite an achievement: if you could cut bone anywhere, you could easily cut wood or other materials. And effectively it has been like that. Currently chainsaws have become little specialized elements useful for all kinds of work. Especially in engineering where modern motorized saws with special teeth and prepared to withstand physical effort have an important role.

The best saws were invented to cut bone

Returning to the medical topic, fortunately, today it is no longer advisable to use symphysiotomy, which has been displaced by caesarean section and other more modern procedures. However, the chainsaw was curiously popular for almost two centuries. What is more, to this day it is still very necessary for some surgical interventions.

Even more curious is that its popularity was lost for the sake of the Sierra de Gigli, at least when amputations are concerned; since it seems more effective and efficient when cutting bone than the mechanical saw. And, after all, some of the greatest developments in tools have occurred in the medical environment, as we said.

And it has logic. The body is designed to resist. Fabrics like bone are of overwhelming durability, and it takes the greatest of ingenuity to overcome their hardness. In the case of the power saw, evolution has brought us from the most "delicate" (if we can use this word) to the coarsest. And thank goodness, because nobody would like to see now how they use a power saw during delivery.

Images | Wikimedia

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