Thursday, 29 March 2018


I've finished a book!  This to me is a great surprise as I had six given to me at Christmas, and a large book token, and so far I had only read three small ones and one paperback.  I have been so lazy busy doing other things I did not get time to read properly.
I was a bit taken aback by this one.  While I have worked in hospitals I avoided things like blood and gore as much as I could leaving that to the professionals to clean up.  This book takes us into the macabre surgical world of the 19th century and tells of the wonderful discovery of ether, later chloroform, to knock people out while operations took place and then on into the efforts of one Joseph Lister to clean things up.
Operations, whether with or without ether, took place on filthy tables in filthy hospitals where the speed of the surgeon cutting a leg off was more important than anything else.  No one comprehended germs and hygiene was considered needless.  The operation was watched by medical students, several assistants participated and cleaning was limited to removing blood quickly rather than keeping patients healthy.  Many died. Many of the surgeons and students also died having picked up diseases from the patients who in many cases were of the poorest calibre and not very clean either.  The richer classes could be treated at home on the kitchen table as this was considered better.  Hospitals were for the poor.  
Lister learned much in London but moved to Edinburgh which was much better surely?  He learned much from the famous Professor James Syme who not only took him on as assistant recognising his qualities as a surgeon but allowed him to marry his daughter.  Later however Lister moved to the filthy Glasgow Infirmary leaving behind the filthy Edinburgh Infirmary which he had somewhat improved.  Glasgow was not keen on his ideas as numbers of patients treated meant cash and cleaning the hospital was not seen as important to the management.  
All this time Lister had been seeking to improve surgical results and his use of the microscope, much derided by many, and his later knowledge of the work of Louis Pasteur led him to understand germs existed, few wished to believe him.  He discovered, after many failures, that Carbolic Acid could be used to heal patients.  His experiments produced results but the medical world did not run after his findings.  How often science is proved to be true but scientists will not accept the results because they do not wish to hear the results?  It took years before people accepted his work and in the end all hospitals improved their cleanliness, surgeons and others accepted the existence of 'germs' and hygiene was improved in all hospitals.   Patients no longer entered hospitals expecting to die most now lived and hygiene and Listers use of carbolic acid on dressings that was responsible.  Clearly I have condensed a lifetimes work which took much long study, many experiments on patients, including his sister and later in life Queen Victoria, and long years of struggle against the perceived wisdom of the medical world.  Nothing is easy in this life even for a genius.
From his research others developed items such a carbolic soap and even 'Listerene,'  this was developed from several other uses that failed but has since become popular, and the Johnson brothers began to develop re-packaged dressings and became famous as 'Johnson & Johnson.  We owe much to the man who discovered ether for taking away the pain and we owe much to Joseph Lister, a humble man who treated rich and poor alike, for developing such surgical skill and after care that healed instead of killed.


the fly in the web said...

I suspect that the hospitals of my youth,reeking of carbolic, were somewhat cleaner and healthier than those of today...and that antiseptic measures are better than aseptic ones.
As to medical took over twenty years before the discovery that you could cure stomach ulcers with bacteria rather than going in for surgery was accepted by the doctors...surgeons reluctant to give up part of their empire...

Adullamite said...

Fly, I love the smell of hospitals, though if you work there you don't see it.