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Early Practices

Bloodletting Instruments

Drawing of lancetsBleeders used an impressive array of hardware. Their mainstay was the lancet, a small, sharp, two-edged knife. Wielding the lancet took quite a bit of skill; a false cut could slice a nerve or a tendon. To make the job easier a Viennese inventor produced a spring-loaded lancet, called a "Schnapper" in German or a phleam in English. It consisted of a case about two inches long with a spring-loaded blade emerging from the top. The bleeder would cock the blade, press the Schnapper against the skin and push a release, causing the blade to snap down and across. The Schnapper had the safety feature of not cutting beyond a certain depth.

Video Clip.Sometimes phlebotomists would use a scarificator -- a spring-loaded box containing anywhere from twelve to eighteen blades. This tool was often used in conjunction with "cupping" to relieve local inflammation. The bleeder would place a glass cup against the skin and warm it with a torch. The heat would create a vacuum strong enough to raise a large blood-filled blister. The bleeder would pull off the cup, spring the scarificator, and then reapply the cup to draw out more blood.

-- Douglas Starr

Photo: Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

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