Object of the Month: February 2022
When the abdominal cavity is open by incision (laparotomy) for ileus surgery or Caesarian section, intra-abdominal pressure may rise, pushing intestinal loops into the cut, preventing suture. An assistant, if available, can compress the intestine by hand, the surgeon may use a wide spatula. Both hand and spatula, however, get in the way of closing the wound. In emergency conditions, any instrument that frees the surgeon’s pair of hands is invaluable. The fan-shaped spatula, designed by Louis Poisson (1850-1939), Professor of Surgery at the Medical School in Nantes, is inserted into the wound, opened and locked with a screw. The metal leaves protect the intestine. For suture, the screw is unlocked and the spatula folded to fit the narrowing wound. Poisson’s spatula – made of metal for easy sterilization – appeared as a „technical novelty“ in the 1910 Maurice Schaerer (Bern) surgical instrument catalogue. The Jetter und Scherer Company in Tuttlingen (Aesculap) took it up in 1922, listing it among gynecological instruments.
In the same year, a very similar tool was devised by René Sommer (1891-1941), then Assistant Physician at the Greifswald surgical clinic. Sommer’s fan was more curved, it opened with a linen band run through slits in the metal leaves and was secured with a crémaillère, rack-and-pinion lock. The author considered this modification a marked improvement on the original, but manufacturers took little notice. Poisson’s spatula was available to surgeons until the 1930s. No post-war textbooks and catalogues appear to list this ingenious instrument.