The surgical procedures in the papyrus were quite rational given the time period, although it does describe magical incantations against pestilence. The text begins by addressing injuries to the head, and continues with treatments for injuries to neck, arms and torso, where the text breaks off. Among the treatments are closing wounds with sutures (for wounds of the lip, throat, and shoulder), preventing and curing infection with honey and mouldy bread, and stopping bleeding with raw meat. Immobilisation was often advised for head and spinal cord injuries, which is still in practice today in the short-term treatment of some injuries. The use of magic for treatment is resorted to in only one case (Case 9).
The papyrus also describes anatomical observations in exquisite detail. It contains the first known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations. The papyrus shows that the heart, vessels, liver, spleen, kidneys, ureters and bladder were recognized, and that the blood vessels were known to be connected to the heart. Other vessels are described, some carrying air, some mucus, while two to the right ear are said to carry the breath of life, and two to the left ear the breath of death. The physiological functions of organs and vessels remained a complete mystery to the ancient Egyptians.
In 1920, the Society asked James Breasted to translate it, a task he completed by 1930. It changed the understanding of the history of medicine, demonstrating that Egyptian medical care of battlefield injuries was based on observable anatomy and experience in stark contrast with the often magical modes of healing described in other Egyptian medical sources, such as the Ebers Papyrus. In 1938 the Smith Papyrus was sent to the Brooklyn Museum, and in 1948 it was transferred to the New York Academy of Medicine where it remains.
The Papyrus was exhibited for the first time since 1948 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 13 2005 to January 15 2006. Coinciding with the exhibition James P. Allen, curator at Met, prepared a completely new translation of the papyrus, which is included in the catalog for the exhibition.