A group of surgeons using Lister’s carbolic spray, circa 1882. Credit: Wellcome Collection
For most of 1800s, surgery was disgusting, filthy, and unsafe. Hospitals were places people desperately tried to avoid, and operations didn’t always result in a clean bill of health. You might even get yourduring a leg amputation. But this all changed with Joseph Lister, who transformed the way that doctors approach surgeries. We talked to Lindsey Fitzharris, author of “ ” about how this shift happened.
- Hospitals weren’t very clean before Joseph Lister came along. “In 1825, a patient had wriggling maggots and mushrooms growing in the damp soiled sheets of his hospital bed,” Fitzharris says. “And what’s crazy is that he didn’t even feel the need to complain about this.”
- After Louis Pasteur introduced germ theory, Lister recognized that cleanliness and sterilization were vitally important for patient survival. This was a departure from the status quo, when of his day would hold his surgical tools in his mouth as he switched instruments.
- Lister’s ideas were met with stiff resistance, and it took a while for them to catch on. The way Lister ultimately triumphed was by teaching young doctors, who would go out into the world and spread his message.
- Listerine actually takes its name from Joseph Lister. looks at the history of the famous mouthwash.
- If you’d like to read more about Robert Liston, the surgeon who accidentally sawed off his patient’s testicles, here’s about him.
- Lindsey Fitzharris also has a YouTube series in which she explores the grisly and strange history of medicine. is an interesting watch.