Robert Liston

Yesterday I briefly described the new header on the site which depicts the first ever public use of anaesthesia during surgery. The first use in Europe took place shortly afterwards when Robert Liston performed an above knee amputation with the patient under the pacifying influence of ether.

It is ironic that Liston was the first European surgeon to use anaesthetic. His fame and fortune was largely dependent on his speed at the operating table. This speed was invaluable in the pre-sedation days but would become less so with widespread use of ether. My favourite Liston story is the description of the most lethal operation ever performed (as described by Richard Gordon):

“He amputated the leg in under 212 minutes (the patient died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene; they usually did in those pre-Listerian days). He amputated in addition the fingers of his young assistant (who died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene). He also slashed through the coat tails of a distinguished surgical spectator, who was so terrified that the knife had pierced his vitals he dropped dead from fright”

 Robert Liston


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