A Delicate Profession

A Delicate Profession

A surgical operation on the eye is among the most delicate of medical procedures. The surgeon must undergo much specialized training and years after receiving a medical degree may still be in training for this specialty.

The first successful cornea transplant was performed in 1835 by a British army surgeon in India. His pet antelope had only one eye, and its cornea was badly scarred. The doctor removed the cornea from a freshly killed antelope and transplanted it into his pet's eye. To the amazement of his fellow physicians, the operation was a complete success and his pet was able to see perfectly with its one eye.

Specialization in eye surgery, as demanding as it is, actually goes back quite far in medical history. Cataract operations were performed as early as 1000 B.C. in ancient Babylonia. The fees for both success and failure in such an operation were generally fixed by state law.

As financially rewarding as successful surgery may have been, an eye doctor's profession was extremely hazardous. If the operation was a success, the physician received ten shekels of silver, a large sum for those days. If his hand slipped, however, and he somehow managed to blind the patient, the law required that his operating arm be cut off at the elbow!

If he didn't bleed to death, he usually retired from the practice of medicine.


From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth