Medicine during the mid 19th and early 20th century became an age of slow, growing success. During this time period, many new inventions to boost medical knowledge were created. Even with these detrimental boosts, there were unknown facts regarding germs and sanitation, which saw improvement over the course of the 19th century. The 19th and 20th centuries were 2 decades filled with trial and error. Doctors would develop new tactics to provide care for their patients. Some resulted in success, whiles others received deadly results. Headed in the direction of progress, medicine was paving its own way in history.

In the mid 1850’s, medicine was still in its baby steps, just about to take its leap into advancement. Surgery was still considered to be extremely risky, due to the appalling cleanliness. Self-titled surgeons still rarely washed their hands, tools as well as operations in between operations. The lack of a proper anesthetic was a major problem that doctors commonly faced during an operation. Doctors had to be quick in performing surgery, making sure the victim would not lose consciousness. Additionally, there were severe limitations to what could and could not be operated on. Surgeons could only perform on anything close to the surface of a person’s body. Internal organ operations at the time were out of the question, which left a person in pain. Many, who underwent surgery, were killed from the shock of the pain. Infections were rampant, since surgeries occurred in dark and un-sanitized wards. Because of this, blood poisoning was extremely common, which was a cause of death as well. Soon, during the late 19th century, a surgeon named Robert Liston experimented with ether, and tried it as an anesthetic. To his surprise, it caused patient no pain, but it irritated often irritated the lungs. Soon, chloroform became the widely accepted use of anesthetic, thanks to a Scottish obstetrician, James Simpson. Joseph Lister, a surgeon, brilliantly discovered the use of carbolic acid to help decrease the spread of infection. When this acid was applied to a bandage onto a wound, it served as a bacteria-killer. Due to this alone, the death rate of infection became a mere 15 % in 1870. By the year1900, all the problems associated with infection and anesthesia had been put to rest, giving a sense of peace to many patients. With striving doctors, newer ideas came to enhance a society in desperate need of help.

In the 1850’s, a surgical ward was the last place any patient truly wanted to be. Not only was it dark, dirty, and extremely unhygienic, there wasn’t any anesthetic which doctors could use to numb away a patient’s pain. Because of this dreaded truth, several doctors all at once often had to hold a patient down so that he or she would not move during a surgery, like an amputation for example. Furthermore, a surgeon had to perform the surgery as fast as he could, to limit the pain as well as blood loss. Pain, in the early 1850’s was a common sensation – one that was ironically felt in hospitals.


To conclude, the era of the late 19th and early 20th century was a great time for experimentation by several well-known world class surgeons. Such surgeons like Liston, Simpson, and Listor studied and tested some of the most important tools used in medicine everyday. From anesthesia to carbolic acid, it is because of doctors like these in the past, which make our future full of hope and even more discoveries.

A patient faces a miserable operation without the use of an anesthetic.


~Ruhi Sharma :] ~


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