Arnold van de Laar, the Dutch surgeon, opens this fascinating history of surgery with the tale of a 17th-century blacksmith who had been so sorely disappointed with the botched operations performed by the scalpel-wielders of his day that he took matters into his own hands and cut a 4oz stone from his own bladder while his wife was at the shops.
Today, with decent hygiene, bladder stones are rare, but then they were rife. From a simple urine infection, they would grow like pearls inside oysters, pressing on the sensors that prompt urination while impeding the act. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, would have counselled any doctor against attempting to remove one, as the operation was more likely to kill the patient than the stone itself. But the pain drove sufferers to seek the relief offered by professional "cutters", even though the procedure had a 40pc mortality rate.
It was only after two cutters had failed to remove 30-year-old Jan de Doot's stone that he decided to do it himself. He made a surgical knife in his own forge, then instructed his apprentice to hold his scrotum out of the way as he made three, deep horizontal slits in his own perineum, and extracted a stone larger than a chicken's egg. De Doot succeeded where the experts had failed, and became famous for his extreme DIY.