Hello, Lovelies! This month Rebecca has another doctor for you. (Apparently she has a thing for doctors… it’s probably the relation to science, but Tiffany is saying Rebecca has a thing for doctors and can’t be convinced otherwise…) Rebecca’s show notes and sources can be found below!
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This week’s drink break and incredible pronunciation tutorial is brought to you by the amazing CK who hosts the Mirths and Monsters Podcast! Mirths and Monsters is a podcast that’s a family friendly, surreal, informative show that follows CK and his dog Finn…and occasionally Rey the Barry Manilow obsessed cat turns up…as they journey across the globe and sometimes through time, to investigate the real stories behind myths, monsters and more. Click on his logo to give him a listen!
Rebecca’s Show Notes
Robert Liston was born on October 28, 1794, to Henry and Mary Liston, in Ecclesmachan, Scotland. Henry was an inventory and scottish clergyman.
Some sources stated that Henry Liston was an inventor of musical instruments, with his most well known instrument being the Euharmonic Organ. The organ was patented in partnership with Charles Broughton in 1810. Henry also patented an improved plow.
But that’s not why we’re here.
Robert Liston attended the University of Edinburgh and became a surgeon in The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in 1818.
At this time, surgery was considered a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” situation.
To understand why surgeons adapted this speedy technique was essentially considered advanced medical science at the time, it also needs to be understood how doctors handled pain and infection.
The first successful surgery completely with anesthesia was performed by William T.G. Morton on October 16, 1846
Germ theory started to become the prominent theory in the late 1890s and started to replace the previously predominant miasma theory, which was the theory that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia, and the black death, was caused by “bad air”.
This means that because surgeons were shortening surgery times (something that is still a factor to surgeons today) with the ultimate purpose being to limit the pain the patient had to endure during the procedure but also minimize the likelihood of the patient contracting an infection postoperatively.
And when it came to cutting down surgery time, Dr. Liston was the best, especially when it came to amputations
Fun fact! The word “amputation” is derived from the Latin word “anptutatus” which means “to cut off or prune”
In fact, he’s notoriously known as “The Fastest Knife In The West End” and is still considered one of the fastest surgeons of the 19th century
His could reportedly amputate a leg in 2 ½ minutes, and an arm in 1.
At one point it was said Liston was about to get a leg amputation down to 28 seconds.
(Anyone remember Dr. Sweets in Atlantis? Who said during the movie after pulling out a bone saw “Nice, isn’t it? The catalog says that this little beauty can saw through a femur in twenty-eight seconds. I’m bettin’ I can cut that time in half.”)
One source stated that part of his technique involved holding bloody knives in his teeth during surgeries.
Below is a description from The Atlantic of one of Dr. Liston’s surgery:
“Time me, gentlemen,’ he calls out to the gathered spectators. Time me.’
“The man grabs your leg and begins to cut just below the knee. He continues to hold onto your leg as one of his lackeys gets a tourniquet around it. To free his cutting hand, he clasps the bloody knife in his teeth and picks up a saw. He cuts back and forth through the bone, drops the severed leg into a bucket filled with sawdust, and sews you up, to the applause of the men sitting in the wings. As promised they’ve timed the whole procedure — from first incision to clipping the loose threads on the sutures — at just two and a half minutes.
Dr. Liston was successful at was he did, and while he was at London’s University College Hospital he reportedly lost only 1 in 10 patients, while other surgeons typically lost about 1 in 4.
However, Dr. Liston had an ego as large as his reputation.
He would often turn the operating room into a showroom, often telling his spectators “time me, gentlemen!”
Of course, with this type of ego comes equally memorable stories.
In the book “Great Medical Disasters” by Richard Gordan, Gordan outlines four of Liston’s most famous cases:
- A 45lb scrotal tumor was removed in 4 minutes. The patient previously had to walk around using a wheelbarrow.
- Argument with his house-surgeon. Was the red, pulsating tumor in a small boy’s neck a straightforward abscess of the skin, or a dangerous aneurysm of the carotid artery? ‘Pooh!’ Liston exclaimed impatiently. ‘Whoever heard of an aneurysm in one so young?’ Flashing a knife from his waistcoat pocket, he lanced it. Houseman’s note – ‘Out leaped arterial blood, and the boy fell.’ The patient died but the artery lives, in University College Hospital pathology museum, specimen No. 1256.
- While he was able to amputate his patient’s leg in 2 ½ minutes, during his enthusiasm, Dr. Liston also unintentionally removed the man’s testicles.
- Dr. Liston’s most notorious case was one during which a distinguished surgical spectator was observing the case.
While amputating a leg, Dr. Liston not only removed the patient’s leg but also unintentionally amputated his assistant’s fingers.
While quickly switching out instruments, Dr. Liston unintentionally cut through the coattails of the distinguished spectator
Not only did both the patient and assistant eventually die from gangrene, during the surgery, the spectator was so convinced that he had been stabbed that he died of shock in the operating room.
This made Dr. Liston to be the only doctor to perform a surgery with a 300% mortality rate.
It’s worth noting that many of these cases are considered apocryphal. One source found stated that Dr. Liston was holding a bloody knife in his mouth while reaching for another tool when he inadvertently slashed the spectator’s coat.
While most widely known for his knife skills, he also invented a couple surgical instruments, such as locking forceps and the Liston splint which is used for femur fractures.
Eventually, on December 21, 1846, Dr. Liston performed the first surgery using ether as an anesthetic, reporting to have said at the time “”This Yankee dodge beats mesmerism hollow”
The surgery, which took less than 30 seconds, was performed on Frederick Churchill who’s knee had been bothering him for years. After waking up from surgery Frederick asked when the surgery was going to begin.
Less than a year after Churchill’s surger, Dr. Liston died in 1847 in a sailing accident.