History of Medicine: The Story of Wound Man - From Textbook to Emblem and Hollywood
If you think you’re having a bad day just remember The Wound Man. Stabbed, bludgeoned and shot yet still standing tall it’s safe to say that his image has been on a journey over more than half a millennium to becoming truly iconic. This journey has taken him from the pages of a medieval textbook to Hollywood via James Bond and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
Gunpowder made its way to Europe during the 14th century, probably along the Silk Road trade route with Asia. This meant that as well as the traditional war wounds from blades and arrows doctors were also seeing the effects of cannon and shrapnel. Doctors needed some form of reference to help with the myriad new forms of trauma they might encounter.
Along came Johannes de Ketham/von Kirchheim, a German physician living and working in 15th century Italy. In 1491 he published Fasciculus Medicinae (the little bundle of Medicine) in Venice; basically the Oxford Handbook of Medicine of its time complying medical knowledge as it was. Written in Latin, the original edition consisted of six illustrations with accompanying text. The world’s first ‘Wound Man’ was one of these illustrations. The illustrations and sections were as follows (diagrams are from the 1495 edition):
- Urine section: the ‘little bundle’ starts immediately with a section on how a physician could use the colour and smell of a patient’s urine to diagnose their condition
- Bloodletting/phlebotomy section: a full male figure showing arteries and veins and where the patient could be bled
- Zodiac figure’: another full male figure annotated with when blood can be taken from certain areas of the body depending on the time of year
Obstetrics and Gynaecology
- Gynaecology and obstetrics: including a pregnant anatomical female figure, and texts related to sexuality, generation, and disorders particular to women
- ‘Wound Man’: this section illustrated various specific injuries and how to treat them
- ‘Disease Man’: labelled with various diseases and illnesses
The Fasciculus Medicinae was published again in 1495, 1500, 1509, 1513 and 1522 by which time its information was outdated and it was replaced as a prominent textbook. However, the concept of the ‘Wound Man’ continued with new injuries matching the advancements of military technology.
Possibly the most famous example of a ‘Wound Man’ was included in Feldbuch der Wundarznei (Fieldbook of Surgery), written by the Austrian field surgeon Hans von Gersdorff in 1531.
‘Wound Men’ continued to be used in textbooks until the 17th century, their forms changing with the artistic fashions of the day.
‘Wound Man’ from Feldbuch der Wundarznei (Fieldbook of Surgery), written by Hans von Gersdorff in 1531
The iconography of the ‘Wound Man’ led to its inclusion in the official blazon for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, adopted on January 24, 1997. Used on the dexter side, it was chosen to show the injured patient in contrast to the healthy man on the sinister side. He represents how emergency medics are trained to treat patients with all kinds of injuries and injury mechanisms as well as the sheer variety seen in trauma patients.
‘Wound Men’ have been potent icons in fiction as well. ‘The Wound Man’ was a potential title for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel ‘Dr No’, published in 1958, rejected partly because of the possibility people would mispronounce it as ‘wound up’ rather than a wounded man. In the 1981 novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris the serial killer Hannibal Lector murders a patient and displays them with multiple injuries similar to a ‘Wound Man’ illustration in one of his books. This was also included in NBC’s television series Hannibal.
It’s safe to say that Medicine is full of symbols. ‘Wound Men’ are one of the most enduring as symbols of education, traumatic injury and an example of Medicine’s roots over the centuries.
Thanks for reading
Originally published at mcdreeamiemusings.com.