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The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 10:38pm by noelleb

 

Book cover, surgery performed while a Victorian man lecturesThroughout most of the 19th century surgeons performed surgeries in unclean rooms, with tables, tools, and aprons, layered with blood and the remains of past surgeries. The gore was seen as a source of pride, showing off how many surgeries they had performed. Infection was  seen as desirable, the discharge that is now recognized as something to be avoided, was then considered part of the healing process. The death rate in hospitals was so bad that they were places to be avoided at all costs; home surgery was performed if one could afford it. This was the state of surgery when Joseph Lister, the subject of Lindsey Fitzharris's The Butchering Art, began his training. 

  

A surgeon of great compassion, Lister was determined to figure out why patients kept dying after surgeries. Most doctors disbelieved in Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs, but Lister was one of the few who believed in their existence. His studies and methods, which were widely mocked among other physicians in England, eventually became mainstream. Lister’s discovery of antiseptic in treatment of wounds and sterilizing hospitals reduced deaths and amputations. They are a cornerstone of medicine, and led to surgeons being able to expand the types of surgeries performed. Fitzharris’s portrayal of how Lister transformed medicine during the later half of the 1800s is so incredibly engrossing, it reads like a blockbuster movie.

 

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