Old-Time Surgeons & Modern-Day Robots ~ Pam Crooks

As I write this, I’m recuperating from hernia surgery.  I’ve always been blessed with excellent health, and this was my first surgery ever.  Needless to say, I didn’t know what to expect after they wheeled me out of the operating room. 

But I admit to an undying gratitude for modern-day medicine.  In my case, the surgeon was very skilled, he commonly does hernia surgery, and recovery is faster than it’s ever been. In fact, my paperwork listed the procedure as “Robotic assisted laparoscopic bilateral inguinal hernia repair.”

Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  But one word should jump out at you.


That’s right.  My surgeon used a robot to help him fix my hernias.

Oh, my, my, my.  What a far cry from surgeries in the 19th century.  While researching with the assistance of Doctor Google (hey, who doesn’t run to Google when they need a little self-diagnosing?) I came across an interesting story that I’d love to share with you.

Dr. Ephraim McDowell was a respected frontier surgeon in Kentucky in the early 1800’s when he traveled to a primitive cabin to examine 45-year-old Mrs. Jane Crawford, who, due to her protruding stomach, believed she was pregnant with twins.  However, after examination, Dr. McDowell determined Jane wasn’t pregnant at all, but instead carried a massive tumor in her abdomen.  He advised her he would attempt to remove the tumor, but she had to ride to his home in Danville where he had surgical tools and medical staff to help.

Mother of four children, Jane was forced to make the decision whether to have the surgery and risk death–or keep the tumor . . . and risk death.  After what must’ve been great angst, she left her children with her husband and traveled alone by horseback SIXTY miles through treacherous Kentucky wilderness to the surgeon’s home.


Once she arrived, he bade her rest several days for stamina to endure the ordeal, er, operation. He often performed his surgeries on Sundays so that the prayers offered at his church would be with him. Indeed, he carried a special prayer in his pocket for divine intervention as he performed the surgery.

Now, mind you, they did not have anesthetic in those days. While poor Jane relied on uttering her psalms for strength, Dr. McDowell relied on two medical assistants and a nurse to hold her down while he made a twelve-inch incision in her belly.  Immediately, her intestines spilled forth, forcing him to turn her over onto her side to get them out of the way so he could delve deeper–and see what he was doing!–to remove the tumor.

Well, after twenty-five agonizing, perspiring but steady-handed minutes, he succeeded. The tumor was out and weighed TWENTY-TWO POUNDS.  

Five days later, she was strong enough to make her bed.  By the end of three weeks, she climbed back onto that horse and made the arduous sixty-mile journey through that Kentucky wilderness to return to her family.

What a joyous reunion that must’ve been, eh?  She went on to live another 32 years.

Later, Dr. McDowell was named the “Father of Abdominal Surgery” and was known for cleanliness while he worked, a factor that no doubt helped many of his patients to live.

For me, it was just my husband and a nurse in the recovery room after the 90-minute procedure.  Afterward, he made a five-minute drive in an air-conditioned car to take me home. 

What a difference a couple of centuries makes, eh?

Needless to say, I’m happy to live in this day and age with its medical marvels.  I’ll be the first to admit I’m no Jane Crawford.  I’m pretty sure I’d be a sniveling wimp if I’d had to go through what she did!

How about you?  Have you had a surgery before?  Two or three?  Are you a wimp when it comes to pain?  


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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

44 thoughts on “Old-Time Surgeons & Modern-Day Robots ~ Pam Crooks”

  1. Pam I hope you are recovering and not in pain.
    I can’t even imagine what Jane went through. I do have high pain tolerance, but not high enough to want no anesthesia.
    I’ve had a hysterectomy, Gallbladder, tongue, and Shoulder surgeries. Of all of those the tongue was most definitely the worst pain. It’s terrible when even drinking water hurts, so forget food. Imagine biting your tongue and increase the pain exponentially! Yikes it was painful.
    I’ll be keeping you in my prayers and hope you are back to normal soon.

    • Oh, Tonya, I’ve never heard of a tongue surgery! You’re right – the tongue is very sensitive, which is why we enjoy using it with our food, right? Ugh. I’m glad that is over for you.

      Nowadays, hysterectomy and gall bladder surgeries are so much easier with laparascopy. I had a friend who had her gall bladder out on Thursday, and she was back to work on Tuesday. WHAT??? Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

      Great to hear from you, as always!

    • Modern medicine and surgeries have kept many, many people alive, thank goodness. Our mortality rate is much higher than it used to be, but then our friend Jane in my blog lived to be about 77 years old. She was one, tough cookie!

  2. I had a huge comment yet again and had to walk away from my phone and lost it. I’ve had nine surgeries. Even one that didn’t have anesthesia. It was a nerve biopsy in my ankle and a muscle biopsy in my thigh. The surgeon had to go much deeper in the thigh that he thought he would because I had worse muscle atrophy than he thought I would. The reason for no anesthesia was because I had three surgeries close together in October and December of 2008 and surgery again in January of 2009. A consultation between doctors decided that my huge shut down in 2019 they feared was caused by too many times having anesthesia. I had already had a spinal tap prior to this surgery so they really didn’t want any meds for this surgery. I have MS and ended up a quadraplegic in 2009, and my guts didn’t even work after that third surgery from having ankle surgery after falling in a MS flare and shattering it. I had a new Neurologist that was testing me with every test imaginable because she didn’t think it was all a MS flare causing my issues. I was a trooper as the surgeon said and I actually amazed the anesthesiologist and other personnel in the ER by not jerking, fighting and bawling. Today the end I had a single stream on tears, no notice no movement except for an occasional involuntary MS muscle jerk. They expected those so I was held down. So, I have an understanding of no anesthesia but I can’t even imagine a major abdominal surgery. Surely she passed out from the pain at some point. So to answer your question, I’m no weakling, I’ve been through too much pain in my life to be. Therefore, I’m sure I could have gone through this in order to try to live for my children. Awesome blog I enjoyed learning Jane’s story.

    • I’m surprised I haven’t had a robotic surgery but I haven’t as of yet. By the way I did end up getting a new diagnosis after a zillion different tests, the lumbar puncture, muscle and nerve biopsy. It was a neurological attack called Mononeuritis Muliplex. It is believed to have caused more of my shut down than my actual MS flare did. My new neurologist was worried that on top of MS I had Guillain-Barre syndrome. and I give thanks to the lord that I do not have both. I had spent a year in a therapy hospital and therapy nursing facility and when I asked the Neurologist what she was trying to figure out or if she had any idea what she was looking for all she said was “Gu” and I said “Guillain-Barre”. She was stunned and asked me how on earth I knew that and I told her that I had observed two patients at the therapy hospital and had noticed how my symptoms and instabilities mimicked theirs.

      • A patient has to arm herself with knowledge and be her own self-advocate. We can’t just let our doctors take charge and let them blindly lead us. Your story proves they don’t know everything and sometimes switching brings fresh knowledge and new directions.

        Good for you for observing and learning. I can’t imagine a year in therapy facilities!! Is that when you started up reading again? I know you hadn’t read for a long time at one point.

    • Oh, Stephanie! You’ve been run through the ringer. I knew you had MS, but all the other maladies, I had no idea. You’ve had your share. God love you. You are definitely no weakling!! I admire you for your strength and survival!

  3. Yes I have had a few surgeries like back surgery, hip replacement, gallbladder just to name a few and they were all done at the Ephraim McDowell hospital in Danville. I live about 5 miles from this hospital. I have had a few other surgeries and with all of them I usually pop back pretty quick. I was walking the block about 2 weeks after hip replacement.

    • What??? The Ephraim McDowell hospital?? LOL That is too funny. What are the chances that my blog would be about something (and someone) you know all too well? Had you heard Jane’s story before?

      You’ve had some serious surgeries, though. What a gift that you can bounce back. You sound as tough as Jane!

    • Wow. That’s a good share of surgeries. If you have high pain tolerance, then you probably don’t need a lot of pain meds. That’s great. I was off pain meds by the 5th day, but my ice pack was my friend at the end of the day. I am not a pill-popper and never have been.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have had 4 surgeries and would prefer to not have any more – my daughter though is going to have hernia surgery on 9/16 – thanks for this look into history!

    • You’ve had your share, too, Teresa. I wish your daughter the best! She probably knows hernia surgery is pretty common and often-done, and that’s a GOOD thing! But surgery is surgery. Tell her Jane’s story – she’ll take comfort. LOL.

    • One surgery and hopefully the last, eh! I wish that for you, Kim. My husband said I moaned and groaned alot when I moved those early days, but I thought I did pretty good, considering. Ha!

  5. I’ve had one major surgery, and quite a few smaller ones. Yes, I’m so glad medicine has made the advancements that it has!! I’m not a wimp when it comes to pain, as I found I have a very high threshold for pain. The older I’ve gotten, I do feel it more than I did when I was younger, but I’ve been told that that is very common, and expected. It’s still a lot higher tolerance that what most people have.

    • High pain tolerance means fewer pain pills, and that’s good. So many side effects from pills. I avoid them and am grateful I don’t take any meds at all, surgery or not.

      Another sign of modern medicine is that we are in the hospital for such a short period of time before they boot us out to recover at home. Although it’s been noted people do recover better at home, surrounded by family. But I tell ya, I still had a bunch of anesthesia in my system. I slept for hours after surgery. I feel like they send you home TOO soon.

  6. I broke my neck and three vertebrae in my back about nine years ago. The neurosurgeon shook his head and said how thankful I should be, as most people would have needed to wear a halo and back brace. I walked away healed in time by God. I have never forgotten how blessed I was. I hope Pam that you are healing well.

    • Oh, Kathy! You could easily have been paralyzed as well. Wow. The spinal cord is so close to that area.

      I love it when people are grateful for all God has done for them. It’s easy to forget when we don’t need Him as much (or we think we don’t) and when things are going well and we feel good. But just because we’re not living in a crisis doesn’t mean He isn’t helping us with the little things, too.

      Glad you’re all healed up! What a sweetheart you are.

  7. I have had numerous surgeries 2016 I had double knee replacements with only 5 weeks in between each of them and I just thought they were painful until I had a head on car wreck last year and had to have my right heel and foot and ankle reconstructed that was probably the most painful of any Surgeries I have had but I am thankful to Jesus I am alive and can now walk although limited . I feel for you for I have had hernia surgery twice. Wishing you a speedy recovery

    • Oh, bless your heart, Glenda! You have had more than your share, too! How scary to have had such a terrible car wreck, and just last year! So recently. I have friends who had foot reconstruction, and it did take a long time for them to bounce back. At least you are mobile. That’s the main thing.

      Hugs to a hernia patient sister!

  8. Pam, I’m glad to hear that your recovery is going well. I’ve had arthroscopic surgery on my right knee twice. I have a high tolerance for pain.

    Thank you for sharing this interesting post.

    • Howdy, Caryl! Doesn’t seem right to have to have the same surgery in the same place twice, does it? Hope you’re done with that right knee now for good!

      Thanks for sharing!

  9. So glad your surgery went well. No, knock on wood, so far I have had no surgeries. No I am not a wimp either when it comes to pain. Thanks for sharing this very interesting information. I am so glad for modern day medicine.

    • I don’t think anyone would disagree about our modern medicine! Good for you for no surgeries. I hope it stays that way for you for many years to come.

      Great to hear from you, Lori.

  10. Thanks for your story, Pam! I cannot even imagine that! I’ve had several surgeries and without anesthesia, I wouldn’t have made it! I’m a wimp! I had two emergency C-sections and those would have been too difficult without anesthesia, I know – the first one was so fast that I couldn’t have the epidural (I’d had one earlier) because my son was BLUE and about to die so the doctor just cut me open and saved the baby! That was 33 years ago but it was very traumatic! I’ve had several other surgeries since then and am sure glad I was totally out!

    • Oh, no, Valri! How scary about your baby boy! Today, mothers in labor hardly labor at all. Everyone gets epidurals. Doctors try to keep the mothers pain free as much as possible, but in your case, you would do anything to save your baby. What a story and so glad baby survived!

  11. First of all , I hope you are feeling better and sending you healing prayers. All I can say about the surgeries way back then, is I am also very grateful that I was born when I was born. I have had thyroid surgery, disc surgery and a hysterectomy. Thank God all my surgeries went well and healed good, and my recovery time wasn’t bad at all. I was always scared when I was told i needed a surgery only because I was going to have to be anesthetized , but of course it had to be done. When I had my thyroid surgery over 30 years ago, I actually was waking up while in the middle of my surgery, I remember i told the Dr. to help me, it was just such an awful feeling , and then not too long after i don’t remember anything, i guess they gave me more anesthesia.. Anyways, that is something I will always remember. Other then that , my other surgeries went well. I enjoyed reading this post, thank you for sharing this very interesting story. Have a Great weekend. God Bless you.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Alicia. Oh, gosh, you woke up??? Sounds like the anesthiologist wasn’t on top of his game!! I would be terrified.

      There’s probably more risks to anesthesia than most patients want to know about, but it sure is wonderful.

  12. I hope you have recovered fully and are feeling well.
    I have pretty good pain tolerance which can be a disadvantage, I wait to long to get things taken care of. I am glad to hear you are doing well after your surgery. As chance would have it, I saw the doctor Tuesday and will be having robotic surgery for an umbilical hernia in the near future. I have had surgery before. I had laparoscopic surgery to remove my gall bladder and an exploratory one on my ovaries. In addition I have had 4 surgeries to remove tumors, thankfully none of them even close to 22 pounds. We are extremely lucky to have the medical care available to us today that we do.
    I certainly thought they had and were using ether by the early 1800’s. I checked and even though it was available, it was used more for a recreational drug rather than for medical use. I am glad they finally used it to help patients they were operating on.

    • Wishing you much luck and fast recovery, too, Patricia! For me, the second day was the worst, but the third day was definitely better. By the fifth day, I was off pain meds, although I kept my ice pack close by. The umbilical site is still the most tender, but getting better. Remember to WALK!! It moves blood to the muscles and aids recovery, as you already know, I’m sure.

      I remember ether when I was a little girl. The memory of the black mask they used is still as fresh now as it was then. It worked!

      Let us know how you’re doing after you have your hernia surgery and hopefully, this will be the last one for awhile! You’ve had your share, my dear.

  13. What a horror story that poor lady endured, Pam!

    I had a total knee replacement last year. I’ve had several major surgeries, but this was one of the easiest in the first few days. I imagine back in the 1800’s that would have resulted in an amputation.

    I hope you recover well and fairly quickly.

    • Howdy, Cheryl!

      I’ve had friends who have had knee or hip replacements, and they say they feel like teenagers again afterward. The mobility is life-changing!

      Yes, amputation or being crippled for life. Ugh!

      Thank you for the well-wishes, my friend!

  14. Wow! All of this horrifies and impresses me but the most impressive was his cleanliness. I’ve always heard doctors of the past wore dirty blood stained clothes from patient to patient as displays of honor. Wow and wow!

    I have had abdominal surgery and thank God for anesthaesia! Great post, Pam.

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