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What is the Electric Scalpel ?

An electric scalpel is a needle-like surgical instrument that uses high-frequency oscillations in the form of a small electric arc at the point of cutting or cutting tissue while sterilizing the edges of the wound and sealing the cut blood vessels.

An electric scalpel, also called (not quite exact) the diathermy knife. For many procedures, it is an instrument that is used much more than the conventional scalpel. Diathermy is the term given to remote heating, for example using microwaves. It is not clear how surgeons adopted this inappropriate name: the correct term is ‘electrosurgical scalpel’, although many American surgeons call it ‘Bovie’ in homage to its inventor.

A high voltage, high frequency electric current is passed through your blade to easily cut the tissue, cauterizing as you go. Its great advantage is that it instantly seals the small blood vessels it cuts, preventing bleeding. With a blue arc of high voltage electricity playing around its tip and a column of smoke coming out of any tissue it touches.

It was invented in 1925 by William T. Bovie, a plant physiologist who had been interested in applying electricity to surgery. In 1927, Popular Mechanic magazine published a brief but dramatic article about this exciting new invention: 

Bloodless surgery, performed with the so-called ‘radio knife’, can restore some crazy people’s sanity, as well as make possible operations never before possible without fatal results, have revealed the latest experiments with this remarkable new tool.

One of the diseases that has always puzzled science, brain tumors, has been conquered in more than twenty successful operations by a Boston surgeon. The Boston surgeon was Harvey Cushing, a great early brain surgeon who has been described as the father of neurosurgery.

According to previous methods of operating with a sharp knife, brain tumors could not be removed because the patient would die from blood loss. With the electric scalpel, which is not a knife at all, but just a small pointed electrode, there is no bleeding.

The radio scalpel got its name because it uses the same type of high-frequency current used in wireless technology. The ordinary household lighting current is ‘intensified’ at an enormously high voltage and frequency, but only a small amount is used.

In such conditions, it is possible to pass the current through the body without feeling it, although the voltage is high enough to jump a gap many inches long. The patient is placed on one electrode and the surgeon uses the other to operate. An ordinary darning needle, or a tool of similar size and shape, is adequate.

When the needle approaches the flesh, a small arc forms, and then the current begins to pass through the body, coagulates the blood, and seals the adjacent blood cells as it moves forward. By varying the intensity of the current, it is possible to seal only a thin layer of cells,

Even in operations where large blood vessels must be separated, the electric scalpel provides a seal. The surgeon traps the ends of the cut vessel with small forceps, passes the tip of the electric needle over them, and they are sealed as easily as a paper tube could be closed with mucilage.

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IMAGEN DE BISTURÍ ELÉCTRICO / electric scalpel image