Tag Archives: Men Of Whom Tales Are Told

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack

I’m disappointed to note that until about an hour ago I hadn’t heard of Robert Liston, the C19th surgeon noted for his impressive speed in the days before anaesthesia, a man who prided himself on his ability to amputate a leg in under two-and-a-half minutes. Now that I do know, I have to share, for he falls under that admirable category “Men Of Whom Tales Are Told”.

He is the only surgeon known to have achieved an impressive 300% mortality in an operation when his patient as well as his assistant, whose fingers were accidentally lopped off during surgery, both died of gangrene after the procedure, and a notable spectator suffered a fatal fear-induced heart attack in theatre, Liston having got too close for comfort with his blade as he was flashing around, presumably trying to beat his personal best. Liston once also accidentally whipped off a patient’s balls with an overenthusiastic swish of his scalpel as he was amputating the man’s leg.

All this from Chapter 1 of Richard Gordon’s Great Medical Disasters.

I begin to understand Sir Launcelot Spratt rather better.