Bullet extractorsBullet extractors went through various designs – each of which has benefits and drawbacks, according to “Gunshot Injuries, Their History, Characteristic Features, Complications, and General Treatment” written by surgeon-general Sir Thomas Longmore in 1895.
The extractor on the left isn’t so scary and probably looks fairly familiar. It is essentially a forceps design for removing bullets that are close to the skin. They look similar to tools used today and were likely part of every physician’s kit. There are a few varying designs that were used, some with sharp points rather than teeth at the business end. Some more sophisticated designs also featured three blades at the end to ensure better grasp of the bullet.
The one on the right might send chills up your spine, but it actually is a rather elegant solution for bullets that are lodged deep in the body. This one is actually from an earlier time. These special instruments for removing bullets came into use in the early 1500s as firearms became increasingly sophisticated. This screw-type bullet extractor features a hollow rod which contains a screw that can be lengthened or shortened by turning the handles. The instrument is placed in the wound and the screw lengthened to pierce the bullet to remove it.
In addition to the forceps style and the screw-style bullet extractors, there was also a scooping method. That tool has a spoon-like end with a rasped edge. Some extractors were composites of all three designs.
Interesting sidenote: Back in 1895, Longmore was no fan of bloodletting. He advised physicians to allow for rest and, if necessary, some use of opium for pain. He instructed readers to “avoid abstraction of blood in all but exceptional cases…” along with other “restrictives” or “purgatants,” noting “Few modern surgeons believe that such a drain on the circulation or such depressing medicines and regimen are beneficial much less necessary.”