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‘The Butchering Art’: How A 19th Century Physician Made Surgery Safer

Enlarge this image Joseph Lister directing the use of carbolic acid spray in one of his earliest antiseptic surgical operations, circa 1865. Bettmann Archive hide caption toggle caption Bettmann Archive The operating theaters of 19th century England were dirty, crowded spaces where patients screamed and spectators bought tickets to watch life and death struggles. Surgeons wore blood-encrusted aprons, never washed their hands, and speed was prized over skill, since most patients were awake during surgery in the pre-anesthesia days. Many patients died of infections soon afterward, if they didn’t die…

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