Fleams or Phlebetomes (Bleeding Knives)

These multi-bladed medical instruments are known as a fleams or phlebetomes, from the Greek words “Phlebos,” for blood vessel and “tome” meaning to cut. They were used for bloodletting, a practice that dates back to antiquity but is rarely used today. This kind of instrument was more often reserved for veterinary use, but the use of fleams on people was not unheard of.

This instrument would be used by placing it over the vein and then striking the Fleam with a fleam stick, which was a short wooden club. This would result in rapid penetration of the vein with minimal risk to the operator and minimal cutting of the patient’s tissue. After the incision was made and the desired amount of blood drained, a pin would be placed through the edges of the cut and then a figure eight of thread was sewn over the pin in order to keep the cut closed.   

Bleeding a patient was almost never helpful and served only to make  them weaker, yet it was commonly used from as  far back as the ancient Egyptians and into the 19th century. One ancient system of thought that coincided with bloodletting was a theory of the four bodily humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. An imbalance of these “humors” let to the need for bloodletting. 

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