Alum, vitriol—for control of hemorrhage—
“oyle of Elders scalding hot”; turpentine; hot pokers;
pain-relieving cordials; bandages; tourniquets; thread
for sutures; knives, curved or straight; saws
and chisels; bone, soft tissue, skin-flaps; above all, practice—
with leg amputations, there are barely minutes.

“An amputation every seven minutes,”
wrote Napoleon’s surgeon at Borodino. Hemorrhage,
sepsis, and gangrene accompany his practice.
He writes, “Cannonballs cauterize better than pokers.”
At least three men restrain the patient; one saws.
In 70 percent, you can dispense with thread.

Since the invention of gunfire, there’s a common thread:
with below-knee fractures, operate within minutes;
(with above-knee fractures, the patient’s dead). Quite often, saws
produce the anesthesia of unconsciousness, as does hemorrhage.
Scrape all devitalized tissue and apply hot pokers
(the “laudable pus” of the 13th century has fallen from practice).

Louis XIV knew the benefits of practice:
a fistula in ano, like a swallowed thread,
wormed through his anus and proved very painful. Blank as pokers,
physicians examined the royal buttocks and knew in minutes—
but surgery? There was the danger of infection and hemorrhage.
Louis’ solution? He employed the old saw

“Practice makes perfect.” In two months, the court surgeon saw
more patients (commoners) than in all his years of practice—
and some survived, for which Louis was grateful. (The hemorrhage
to his treasury was less easily remedied, a thread
historians would later trace to revolution.) In minutes,
Louis’ gamble paid off, while the rest were losers at poker.

In a satiric woodblock print from the 1500s, four men are playing poker:
two are betting the third won’t survive as the fourth saws
through the third’s shin, very determined. In a few minutes
the victim probably will die because it hasn’t yet come into practice
to tighten bands around the leg as a tourniquet. Instead, long threads
of blood spurt into a bucket. If the bucket fills, he dies of hemorrhage.

It’s hard not to think God likes to play poker or practice
with our lives to correct his foul-ups. Well, Socrates saw the one thread to follow was
Truth—and in minutes, the poison caused his brain to hemorrhage.