WHEN you hear the word chainsaw, you probably imagine lumberjacks chopping wood or maybe the much scarier Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But the chainsaw has a much more surprising medical use that you may not be aware of.
Why were chainsaws invented?
The original chainsaw looked more like a modern-day kitchen knife than what we would call a chainsaw nowadays.
It had little teeth on a chain that wound in an oval and first appeared in the late 18th century.
They were invented for use in medical procedures to help ease the task of cutting through bone.
It was used for various bone cutting operations and amputations during surgery until medical advances saw it phased out.
The chainsaw was mainly used in a particular surgery called a "symphysiotomy" which had been previously performed with a small knife and saw.
The surgery took a long time and was done without any anaesthetic so the chainsaw sped up the process.
The tool was a success and it continued to be used for most of the 19th century.
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Who invented chainsaws?
In the 1780s, in a bid to make the removal of the pelvic bone easier and less time-consuming two doctors named John Aitken and James Jeffray invented the chainsaw.
Jeffray was a Professor of anatomy and botany at Glasgow University for 58 years, one of the longest ever Scottish professorships.
He published Cases of the Excision of Carious Joints in 1806, which was a collection of works in which he discussed the invention of the chainsaw.
His invention continued to be used in surgery until it was superseded by the Gigli twisted-wire saw, which was cheaper to manufacture.
A similar idea appeared in the 1830s, invented by a German orthopaedic surgeon which then evolved into a wood chopping tool.
In 1883, a patent for a chainsaw for cutting boards was passed and then subsequently more and more chainsaws developed.
They became larger and more powerful and eventually grew to be the brutal chopping device we know today.
Dr Mark Skippen, from Swansea University, said: "The chainsaw is a good example of technological innovations that end up being used for different purposes to their original intention.
"Based on the design of a watch chain, the original chainsaw devised in Scotland has since led to tools used in obstetrics, orthopaedics, neurosurgery and now tree surgery worldwide."
Were chainsaws invented for childbirth?
These monstrous devices were actually invented for bringing babies safely, yes safely, into the world.
Before the common use of the C-section, all babies had to be passed through the birth canal.
However, as we know, babies can become obstructed in there if they are breech or too large.
When babies couldn't fit through or they would get stuck in the pelvis, parts of bone and cartilage were removed to create more space for the baby.
In this case a symphysiotomy would be performed to help with childbirth, and a chainsaw would be used.
What is a symphysiotomy?
A symphysiotomy was a procedure carried out on pregnant women before, during or after birth in the place of a Caesarean Section.
The procedure involves slicing through the cartilage and ligaments of a pelvic joint (or in extreme cases, called pubiotomy, sawing through the bone of the pelvis itself) to widen it and allow a baby to be delivered unobstructed.
The procedure carried the risk of urethral and bladder injury, infection, pain, and long-term walking difficulty.
Symphysiotomies became a routine surgical procedure for women experiencing an obstructed labour from 1597.
They became less frequent in the late 20th century after the risk of maternal death from caesarean section decreased (due to improvement in techniques, hygiene, and clinical practice).
It is estimated that 1,500 women unknowingly and without consent underwent symphysiotomies during childbirth in the Republic of Ireland between 1944 and 1987.
In 2002, Survivor Matilda Behan and her daughter, Bernadette, set up an advocacy group for the victims called Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS).
Symphysiotomies are no longer performed but sometimes still happen in countries where an operating room for a caesarian section is unavailable.
“They gave me gas and air and an injection, and took me to another room, where they tied my legs up on each side,” a woman in Ireland told The Guardian, referring to her 1981 procedure.
“There were two nurses on each side of me. I saw this doctor at the end of my bed with a big, long silver thing.
"They made a hole in your private parts, and he inserted this silver thing up and cut the pubic bone and pushed it over to widen your pelvis for you to deliver your baby yourself.”
So next time you see a chainsaw, you know where it really came from.
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