Surgeons are among the most trusted individuals in the world. When something goes terribly wrong with our bodies and it’s something we can’t solve by ourselves, then we seek out the help of a doctor. When it’s something that a doctor can’t fix, then generally they will turn to a surgeon to perform medical operations on us.
Even though surgeons as a whole have built a great reputation or trust and perfection, it hasn’t always been that way. I’m sure there are still the occasional mishaps in the operating room today, but the stories rarely get past the doors of the hospital.
The Great Robert Liston of the Nineteenth Century
During a time of the past when doctors and surgeons would often perform their amazing feats of medical mastery amongst a theatre of onlookers, a master surgeon by the name of Robert Liston took the stage. He was one of the leading surgeons of the nineteenth century and was quite famous for his ability to perform surgeries with great skill and speed.
This was during a time when anesthetics were nil therefore speed was of utmost importance when operating on a patient. After all if you have to feel the pain, you want it over with as fast as possible right? Not only that, but if the patient were to survive the surgery, then blood loss was a major factor, and the longer an operation took, the more blood loss would occur.
Whoops, It Wasn’t Supposed to Go that Way
According to those that witnessed Robert Liston and his surgical olympics, he could amputate a person’s leg and sew it back up in approximately 90 seconds! That’s simply amazing, but how could this be done with any accuracy you may ask?
Robert Liston was the tall and macho type who would strut into the operating theater and ask his audience to time him on their pocket watch to see how long it would take him to perform his work on the patient. While operating, Liston would clasp his bloody knife between his teeth like a pirate.
Those that were watching spoke of how his knife would gleam in the light as instantly you would hear the sounds of sawing which caused his actions to appear almost simultaneous. What an awe inspiring sight this must of been, a master at work.
But during one particular operation, more than just mastery was witnessed. Liston was amputating a patient’s leg during and completed in a mere two and a half minutes from start to finish. But to the surprise of his audience, he had also sliced off his patient’s left dangly man goodie. Ouch!!!
Then on another occasion Liston sliced off two fingers of his assistant’s hand. Not only that, but he also snipped away at the coattails of one of his distinguished spectators! Unfortunately this man dropped dead from fright right there on the spot.
Later on the patient and his assistant both passed away because of a lovely case of gangrene due to their wounds.
A quote from the great medical historian Richard Gordon in reference to this case:
“The only operation in history with a 300 percent mortality.”