The modern disposable hypodermic needle is a marvel- safe, clean, and almost painless compared to the reusable instruments many of us remember from years past. But how did this method of introducing drugs into our bodies start? Earlier physicians would wound the skin, as in variolation, but the first use of a needle-like instrument was in 1844, when Dr. Francis Rynd injected morphine acetate into the face of a woman who was most likely suffering from the painful nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia.
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The most interesting thing about this section of the report, however, is the ‘instrument made for the purpose’ of injecting the drug. Dr Rynd did not include a description or illustration of this instrument – probably a mistake, as it was his opportunity to publicise his invention. We do know what it looked like, however, from an article he subsequently published in 1861:
This is not a hypodermic syringe but a novel type of trochar: an instrument with a sharp tip and a cannula through which fluids can be introduced (or evacuated). It had a sharp needle to puncture the skin, but no plunger to propel fluids into the body; instead, the drug was dropped into the cannula, using ‘an ordinary writing-pen’, and then left to infiltrate the tissues by gravity alone.