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Dr. Robert Liston and the 300% Mortality Surgery

Medical Trivia

Dr. Robert Liston
Dr. Robert Liston

Dr. Robert Liston (or Mr. Robert Liston as surgeons were referred to in England) was born on October 28, 1794 and became one of the leading surgeons in London.  He had a 10% mortality rate compared to other surgeons where 40% was the average. He was ahead of his time, and long before it became standard practice he washed his hands and instruments, wore clean aprons, and shaved surgical sites.  Later in his career he was the first surgeon in Europe to use general anesthesia, and he also was known for inventing new surgical techniques and instruments.  


Prior to the use of anesthesia, the fastest surgeons were considered the best as it decreased the time the patient was in pain and the amount of blood loss.  Liston was one of the fastest, doing amputations in as little as 30 seconds.  In fact, his catch phrase in the operating room to medical students holding stop watches was “Time me, gentlemen, time me!”.  Unfortunately, that hubris and speed occasionally got him and his patients into trouble.  His most infamous operation was one where three people died.  Doing one of his speed amputations he managed to cut off some of his assistant’s fingers and also cut the tailcoat a bystander was wearing.  According to reports, the patient and the assistant later died from infection and the bystander, who apparently thought he had been stabbed, dropped dead from shock right in the operating room.  Thus Dr. Liston, despite all his success, also became known for having the only recorded 300% mortality surgery in history. 


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