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Tonsillectomies are one of the oldest medical procedures performed. Almost 3000 years ago, tonsil removal was referenced in a book of “Hindu Medicine”, but it wasn’t until Celcus wrote about separating the tonsils before excising them with a scalpel in ~30 AD that the procedure was considered established as a beneficial medical treatment.
The tonsillotome (or tonsil guillotine) being shown here was developed by Philip Syng Physick in 1828, and was the preferred instrument to use for almost 80 years. However, this instrument was rarely able to remove all of the tonsil, and fell out of use in favor of the forceps and scalpel. These days, the scalpel/forceps “Cold Steel” dissection method is still the most common way to perform a tonsillectomy, despite numerous alternative methods being widely available. It is the simplest method to learn and perform, causes less post-operative pain or complications than other methods, and as such has remained popular even in the wake of advanced methods like carbon dioxide laser treatment and radiofrequency ablation.
Atlas and Epitome of Operative Surgery. Dr. Otto Zukerkandi, 1902.