Even without anesthesia: why tonsils were massively cut out in the USSR

Anesthesia was often considered redundant in the USSR. Source: Created with the help of AI

Modern medicine proceeds from the position that there is nothing superfluous or accidental in the human body, so organs or parts of organs should be removed only as a last resort. But this was not always the case. For example, in the USSR, people had their tonsils (also called glands) removed on a massive scale.

The operation was often performed even without anesthesia, causing a person deep moral trauma. OBOZ.UA figured out where this practice came from and why it has now been abandoned and is rarely performed for very clear indications.

How tonsils were removed in the USSR

Tonsils are small glandular formations in the throat. If they become inflamed, a condition called tonsillitis occurs. It often becomes chronic and creates a constant source of inflammation in the throat. The patient experiences severe discomfort, pain, and difficulty breathing and swallowing.

In the USSR, in order not to waste time and money, it was preferred to simply remove this organ. It was considered unimportant, and the slightest inflammation was considered a direct indication of surgery.

They saved not only in treating tonsillitis but also in removing the tonsils. The patient was not even given local anesthesia. The pain that occurred during the operation was considered tolerable, and the person was forced to endure the procedure without unnecessary medications. While adults could still cope with it, children had to be tied to a special chair. Parents were kicked out of the room so as not to interfere. The operation was performed right in the kindergarten or school using the conveyor method. In any case, the child was left alone with the doctors, in pain and fear, and often suffered severe psychological trauma that turned him or her away from medicine for life. Tonsillectomy operations were performed by the hundreds of thousands a year.

Why tonsils were removed so massively

A significant leap in the development of medicine in the first half of the twentieth century made doctors believe that they knew everything about the human body. This was not the case at all – scientists have not yet solved all the mysteries of the body. But at the time, this led to the fact that some organs, the importance of which doctors did not fully understand, were considered superfluous. This happened, in particular, with the tonsils and appendix.

And since the USSR considered itself a progressive state, the relevant "advanced" practices were introduced in medicine. Therefore, people had their "unnecessary" organs removed as a preventive measure. In addition, this made it possible to avoid giving an employee unnecessary sick leave if he or she had an exacerbation of tonsilitis or appendicitis.

It should be noted that this approach was also practiced in the West. But they quickly abandoned it, realizing that such procedures do less good than harm. But in the Soviet Union, mass tonsil removal was practiced almost until its collapse.

Are tonsils so useless?

Modern medicine considers this organ to be the first barrier to infection in the body. And swelling is just a symptom. In fact, during inflammation, the tonsils begin to release large amounts of leukocytes, the cells responsible for the immune response. On the one hand, the body does experience some discomfort, and the throat becomes red and sore, on the other hand, at the same time, the body is intensively fighting the infection. The tonsils are trying to prevent bacteria or viruses from going down and getting into the lungs.

According to statistics, people with tonsils removed are much more likely to suffer from colds and have a higher risk of developing pneumonia. That is, the corresponding operation does not reduce, but significantly increases the incidence.

In the modern world, tonsil removal surgery still exists. However, it is prescribed in case of complex purulent inflammation or other conditions that seriously threaten human health.

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