WTF Fun Fact 13047 – Robert Liston’s Infamous Surgery

Robert Liston was a respected 19th-century surgeon. In fact, surgical instruments have been named in his honor. And while he might have taken great pride in amputating limbs as fast as possible, the goal was to save the patient from prolonged pain. There were no anesthetics back in that day. The faster the surgery was over, the better. But one amputation went horribly awry, killing 3 people.

The surgery with a 300% fatality rate

While there’s a chance it may be an apocryphal story, Liston’s most infamous amputation involved 3 fatalities. During a leg amputation, he cut so fast that he severed the fingers of his surgical assistant. And while he was switching instruments, he slashed the white coat of a doctor observing nearby.

Many patients died during amputations in the 19th century, so one fatality could be expected. However, the assistant ended up dying of a blood infection. To top it off, the man whose coat he had slashed wasn’t physically injured but ended up dying of shock because he thought he had been stabbed.

That makes this amputation the only one with a 300% fatality rate.

Robert Liston, showman

Liston was a show-off, but he was also a great surgeon. He also aided in the introduction of ether as an anesthetic.

During one procedure that lasted only 25 seconds, he gave the patient ether, severed the limb, and when the patient came to he asked when the surgery would take place. This greatly impressed the crowd. (In those days, surgeries took place in operating theaters with many other physicians watching.)

Robert Liston died in a sailing accident not long after that and didn’t get to see the evolution of anesthetics. However, he was remembered not only for being “the fastest knife of the West End” but for his willingness to take on the cases that other doctors would not.  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Time Me, Gentlemen’: The Fastest Surgeon of the 19th Century” — The Atlantic

WTF Fun Fact 12700 – Dr. “Mummy” Pettigrew

During England’s Victorian period, people were obsessed with ancient Egypt. But this fascination led them to plunder pyramids, disturb the dead, and desecrate sacred artifacts. Of course, they didn’t see it this way, they were just having a good time.

A surgeon and Egyptologist (back in the days when you could be both), Thomas Pettigrew, took advantage of this “Egyptomania” to aid in his research on mummies.

According to Tasha Dobbin-Bennett on behalf of Yale’s Peabody Museum:

“…During the spring and summer of 1833, Pettigrew conducted his research for this manuscript while leading three mummy “unwrapping” parties, where members of the British social elite would gather to observe the unwrapping of ancient Egyptian mummies. Although no longer under the employ of the Duke of Sussex, Pettigrew effectively parlayed his introduction to the social elite into patronage, riding on the wave of Egyptomania sweeping the British Isles. While the majority of these private parties were produced for entertainment value alone, Pettigrew utilized these events as another line of investigation complementing his education and access to extensive libraries. The material included within the manuscript testifies to his detailed and serious methodology, particularly in the chapters concerning the mummy as a drug, the embalming procedure and paraphernalia, and the comparison of classical authors with his research. Ten illustrated plates by the satirist George Cruikshank, the result of careful observation, complement the extensive text.”

Tomb-raiding was so common that Egyptian mummies could be procured by wealthy people for just about any purpose.

Apparently, mummy unwrapping parties sometimes involved the hosts giving away the objects people were buried with as party favors. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mummy-Mania” – Yale Peabody Museum