The Wound Man

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by Jeffrey M. Levine, MD, AGSF, CWSP

Introduction

For years I was the only medical doctor doing inpatient wound consults in my hospital. I was continually amazed at the variety of wounds that reflected a wide gamut of human disease. Each wound was unique, and beyond the many pressure injuries and venous stasis lesions there were wounds from cancer, substance abuse, vasculitis, trauma, surgical dehiscence, and hematologic disorders. Most doctors viewed these as an unrewarding burden, requiring extended time unwrapping and rewrapping lesions that were malodorous, painful, and sometimes unhealable. The nurses and medical residents were puzzled at my enthusiasm and dubbed me “The Wound Man.”

I chuckled when I heard this because it harkened back to the most famous illustration in the history of wound care: The Wound Man.

wound_man.jpg

History

The Wound Man was first featured in a medical text published in the 15th century during the Italian Renaissance. The illustration depicts a man assaulted with an array of weapons that create a variety of wounds from head to toe. A dagger pokes his eye, a cutlass slices his shoulder, a cannon ball smashes his wrist, an arrow pierces his arm, and a spear lances one foot while a thorn sticks in the other. Other Wound Man illustrations featured fires burning him as well as dogs and creepy-crawly creatures biting various parts of his body. Back when textbooks had few pictures, these images were copied for centuries and served as teaching tools for doctors practicing wound care.

Wound healing recipes were replete with herbs, minerals, and other natural substances. Here is an example of a wound treatment recipe from a book called the Fasciculus Medicinae written in 1491, in which the Wound Man appeared:

"For running and painful wounds wherever they are, take an oil fish and boil it. Take the fat from it and keep it in a clean container. Boil a hen and do not add any fat to it. Separate the fat from the hen, collect it, and add it to juice of sage, rue, wormwood, horehound, and wild mint. Put that all together and smear the [wound] with it. They will heal."

Conclusion

The Wound Man has a long and distinguished history as a teacher of generations of caregivers. Despite being stabbed, burned, pierced, and bitten, he stood tall throughout the centuries. In my long career as a wound specialist, I was lucky be a part of the modern explosion of knowledge for the care and treatment of wounds, and I participated in passing along what I learned to medical students, doctors, and nurses. Being aware of the long lens of history and the stature of this fictitious figure, I certainly did not mind the honorific title of “The Wound Man” when I made rounds.

About the Author
Dr. Levine is currently wound consultant for the New Jewish Home in New York City and Advantage Surgical and Wound Care. He is Associate Clinical Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and has published numerous articles on the fascinating history of wound care. Dr. Levine’s website and blog can be accessed here: www.jmlevinemd.com

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, HMP Global, its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.

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