As a consumer of macabre and grotesque media, you the listener may believe yourself to be already acquainted with the story of Robert Liston. Thousands of websites, podcasts, and even peer reviewed academic journals and publications have recounted the fantastic story of an operation performed by Robert Liston which resulted in the deaths of not only his patient, but also of his surgical assistant and a bystander. The story goes that in his efforts to expedite as much as possible the process of amputating his patient’s leg, that Liston accidentally removed 2 fingers from his assistant, and whilst flourishing his knife about also nicked the coat of an observer. The patient died on the operating table, the man whose coat was slashed died of a heart attack, and the assistant died some time later after the remaining stumps of his fingers became gangrenous.
This story has been recounted hundreds of times, each telling inevitably concluding with the clever summation that this was the only surgery in recorded history with a 300% mortality rate.
If this is the story that you are hoping to hear, you might soon be disappointed. That disappointment stemming from the fact the aforementioned and often repeated story of surgical buffoonery never happened.
Robert Liston was however an extremely interesting character and one whose true story is filled not only with blood and questionable ethics in those agonizing years before anesthesia, but also with accomplishment and achievement.
So, how did everyone except Where is the Line? Get this man’s story so terribly wrong? How do I know that everyone except Where is the Line? Is wrong? Who really was Robert Liston and what might it have been like to go under his knife during the age of agony? Find out on this episode of Where is the Line?
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“In a Clinical Lecture Delivered at the University Hospital by Mr. Liston, the Lecturer Draws the Attention of His Pupils to Narrowing of the Anal Passage, a Complaint Incident to the Extremities of All Mucous Canals.” The Medico-Chirurgical Review, and Journal of Medical Science, no. XLIV, 4, 1835, p. 490+. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, link.gale.com/apps/doc/KXHMAR043441888/GDCS?u=tusc49521&sid=GDCS&xid=d7f087f6. Accessed 1 Mar. 2021.
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The Morning Chronicle (London, Greater London, England) · Tue, Dec 14, 1847 · Page 5