The PioneersThe MilitaryReferences

Joseph Lister (1827-1912)

Lister was born in Upton Essex, England and came from a Quaker family. He was educated at London as opposed to one of the Oxbridge universities as he was barred from doing so as he had a Quaker background, it was not only Catholics who were excluded from entering the Church of England University institutions at that time.

He eventually after he completed all his studies went to work in Edinburgh under James Syme. He went on to eventually become Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University.

 He was very mindful of the fact that many people survived the trauma of an operation but died afterwards of what was known as ‘ward fever’, its other names were Hospitalism or hospital gangrene.
He was made aware of the work done by the Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis In 1865, Lister also read about the work done by Louis Pasteur on how wine was soured.

Lister when he visited a sewage works near Carlisle, noticed how the engineers used carbolic spray to kill of the smell. He trialled the use of a Carbolic spray at his operations with great sucsess.

Lister believed that it was Pasteur’s germ theory and microbes carried in the air that caused diseases to be spread in wards. People who had been operated on were especially vulnerable as their bodies were weak and their skin had been cut open so that germs could get into the body with more ease.
Lister decided that the wound itself had to be thoroughly cleaned. He then covered the wound with a piece of lint covered in carbolic acid. He used this treatment on patients who had a compound fracture. This is where a broken bone had penetrated the skin thus leaving a wound that was open to germs. Death by gangrene was common after such an accident.

His success rate for survival was very high. 

 In 1867, Lister published his study of antiseptics by use of carbolic; it was to become known as the Carbolic Crusade. He used carbolic acid sprays to decontaminate surgical wounds. The number of patients operated on by Lister who died fell dramatically. This was the beginning of sterilisation and proper asepsis. He experimented and had great success with sutures that he soaked in an aqueous solution of carbolic acid.191 Add to this the nursing crusade set in motion by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean war, these combined had a tremendous effect on the post operative results for the patients.

It is also to his credit that we give pre-op fasting. In an article "On Anaesthetics" he stressed the need for the stomach to be empty, and the patient to be starved for 4 hours. He also recommended a cup of tea up to two hours before surgery.201

Joseph Lister died in 1912 and was accorded in death the rare honour of a funeral service at Westminster Abbey before being interred at Hampstead Cemetery.191