|Biographical detail : ||One of the greatest physician-surgeons of Moorish Spain.
Al-Zahravi devoted his entire life and genius to the advancement of medicine and surgery, in particular. He wrote a medical encyclopaedia spanning 30 volumes, which included sections on surgery, medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, pharmacology, nutrition etc. The book known as ‘At-Tasrif’ contained data accumulated during 50 years of al-Zahravi’s career comprising training, teaching and practice.
‘At-Tasrif’ contains many original observations of historical interest. He elaborates on the causes and symptoms of disease and theorises on the upbringing of children and youth and on the care of the aged and convalescent. In his pharmacology and therapeutics, he covers area such as cardiac drugs, emetics, laxatives, cosmetology, dietetics, material medica, weights and measure and drug substitution.
‘At-Tasrif’ was translated into Latin by Gerard Cremona in the 12th century and along with Avicenna’s ‘Cannon’, played a major role as a medical text in European universities from the 12th to 17th century.
Al-Zahravi’s 28th treatise, known in Latin as ‘Liber servitoris de preeparatione medicinarum simplicium’ describes chemical preparations, tablet making, filtering of extracts and related pharmaceutical techniques. This treatise was printed in Venice in 1471 by Nicholas Jensen.
Al-Zahravi’s monumental work in surgery included many pictures of surgical instruments, mostly invented by him, and explanations of their use. He was the first medical author to provide illustrations of instruments used in surgery. There are approximately 200 such drawings from tongue depressor and a tooth extractor to a catheter and an elaborate obstetric device.
Al-Zahravi discussed cauterisation, bloodletting, midwifery and obstetrics and the treatment of wounds. He described the exposure and division of the temporal artery to relieve certain types of headaches, diversion of urine into the rectum, reduction mammoplasty for excessively large breasts and the extraction of cataracts. He wrote extensively about injuries to bones and joints, even mentioning fractures of the nasal bones and of the vertebrae.
Al-Zahrawi outlined the use of caustics in surgery, fully described tonsillectomy, tracheotomy and craniotomy-operations he had performed on a dead foetus. He explained how to use a hook to extract a polyp from the nose, how to use a bulb syringe he had invented for giving enemas to children and how to use a metallic bladder syringe and speculum to extract bladder stones.
Al-Zahravi was the first to describe the so-called “Walcher position” in obstetrics; the first to depict dental arches, tongue depressors and lead catheters and the first to describe clearly the hereditary circumstances surrounding haemophilia. He also described ligaturing of blood vessels long before Ambroise Pare.
El Zahrawi emphasised the importance of a good doctor patient relationship and took great care to ensure the safety of his patients and win their trust. He insisted on compliance with ethical norms and warned against dubious practices.
Al-Zahravi whose full name was Abul al-Qasim Ibn Abbas was born in the city of Al-Zahra, six miles northwest of Cordoba (Spain). He was the court physician of al-Hakam II of Spain.