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Name: Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister

Born: 1827 in Upton, England

Died: 1912 in Walmer, England

Profession: Surgeon

See also:

Glasgow Royal Infirmary


As an arts student in London, Young Lister attended, as a Spectator, the first surgical operation under a general anaesthetic in 1846. He then turned to medicine, qualified as a surgeon in 1852, and worked in Edinburgh, Glasgow and later in London. His main work on Antiseptics was done in Glasgow. At that time, surgery was usually followed by inflammation and putrefaction. Of limb amputations about half were fatal from sepsis, and abdominal surgery was largely avoided because of it. It was widely (but wrongly) thought that sepsis was due to air reaching moist tissues, and awkward but ineffectual attempts had been made to exclude air reaching surgical sites. Lister concluded that sepsis was akin to fermentation and was initiated by infectious agents - some air borne. By 1867 he had shown that antiseptic procedures are very successful. He used crude phenol solution as his preferred antiseptic for dressings and instruments and as a spray in the air of operating theatres. Later (1887 on) he gave up the spray and increasingly used aseptic methods with steam as a sterilising agent. His work enormously reduced the incidence of fatal post-surgical infection and encouraged surgeons to develop abdominal and bone surgery.

All this may not have been possible due to one thing: Joseph Lister's ground floor male accident ward in Glasgow's Royal Infirmary was build over a burial ground.

Coffins containing victims of the Cholera Epidemic 1849 had been hurriedly buried one on top of the other to within inches of the surface, which was separated from the ward by a basement area just 4ft deep. To make matters worse thousands of paupers bodies had been piled into huge burial pits in the neighbouring old Cathedral Churchyard. This hideous situation only came to light when the mortality rates of an adjoining ward became so high an investigation was carried out to ascertain the cause, believed to be a foul drain. Excavation revealed the grisly truth.

A Glasgow newspaper stated: “The Dean of Guild is said to have computed that around the infirmary 5000 bodies in a state of decomposition were lying in pits holding 80 each.”

The corrupting mass was treated with carbolic acid and quicklime and an additional layer of earth laid on top. What a miracle the wards were merely unhealthy and not absolutely pestilential. Lister's research into the cause of surgical wounds turning gangrenous was not helped by the insanitary conditions, but he never gave up despite the appalling odds, and to the world's eternal gratitude, his painstaking endeavours alleviated the nightmare of surgery, making it safe for patients to submit themselves to the scalpel.

Image: wikipedia.orghttp://www.wikipedia.orgshapeimage_3_link_0

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