Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris







Playing is Mozart's  "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", performed by the Slovak Chamber Orchestra.  




 A month ago Josh and I flew up to Virginia to see our son, Derek, graduate from college.  As a little graduation treat we then took him up to Williamsburg and Washington D.C.  While flying up there I finished a couple of books, some hard copies, others on my Kindle.  Usually I don't read my Kindle at home, but it is a great traveling companion because I can carry hundreds of books in one little electronic device.  I am a sucker for free downloads, so most of the books on my Kindle are public domain.  Naturally some are better than others.  One I read was fantastic.  Of course, when I bought it on eBay, I thought I was getting a hard back.  No wonder it was a great price.  Word of caution.  Make sure you are not buying a electronic download when you buy on eBay, unless that is what you want.  Sometimes we can be blinded by the cheap price and miss a crucial detail like that.

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian MedicineThe Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Simply fascinating account of the life of Joseph Lister and his efforts to decrease the mortality rate of hospitals in the 19th century.

It's amazing to us, but back then doctors did not realize that they were spreading disease among their patients by not washing or changing clothes after dissecting cadavers and then proceeding straight into the wards to treat sick patients.

Microbes were not discovered at the time. The microscope had been invented but was considered a rich man's toy to look at butterfly wings and such with. Joseph Lister changed that by studying germs. He also realized that carbolic acid could be used as an anti-septic to reduce the chance of disease. He proved this by raising the survival rates of patients in the hospital wards.

His discovery was met with great resistance by the old guard of doctors. Why? And why did other doctors not arrive at the same conclusions, especially when they knew that city hospitals were notoriously unclean and killed more people than they saved? A couple of reasons were responsible for the lack of progress among doctors.

One, public hospitals were free. They were where poor people went to get treated. People who could afford it went to private practice. Doctors were not paid to work in hospitals, they were paid in private practice and as professors in medical schools. City hospitals were nothing more than a place to provide practice for students and professors to teach. Because the patients were poor, it was not a major concern to anyone if they lived or died. In fact, one could say that the objective wasn't to save lives as much as it was to practice the craft of medicine.

This changed with Joseph Lister. A devout Quaker he believed life was sacred and all humans should be afforded the same dignity and care regardless of their status in life, hence his scrupulous care and tireless efforts at improving the sanitary conditions of hospitals and reduce the spread of infectious disease.

He made little headway with his colleagues but they gradually aged out and were replaced by new and eager young medical students who wholeheartedly embraced his theories of antiseptic and hygiene.

Eventually he made his way to the United States where he was met with the same stubborn resistance. His methods were banned from some hospitals and if doctors were found using antiseptic they were threatened with firing.

But the United States finally saw the light and Lister spent his final years as a hero. A couple of brothers by the name of Johnson were so impressed with Lister's work, they were inspired to start a medical supply company.

A chemist by the name of Joseph Lawrence showed his appreciation of Lister by naming an antiseptic mouthwash he developed after him. (I'll let you guess it's name. He named it after "Lister", get it?)

This book provides wonderful, vivid, and at times gruesomely graphic accounts of the history of medical practice during the Victorian age and I found it enthralling.



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Me and my baby boy.

12 comments:

  1. The history of medicine is so good interesting. It seems like it advanced in such slow steps. Even reading Victorian literature one gets a sense of what the doctors did not know that we take for granted. Of course, folks had to piece it all together from scratch as this book illustrates. The story of Lister and mouthwash sounds neat.

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    1. Hi Brian, what surprised me, was that so many doctors really did not care if their patients lived. It was more like a scientific learning experience.

      I thought it was cool to find out who Listerine was named after.

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  2. Fascinating! You have forever changed my appreciation for Listerine. BTW, my freshman biology professor was Dr. Lister. I wonder .... Hmm.....

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    1. Hi R.T. It's not a usual name, is it? Lister was British, but maybe some relative crossed the ocean. You never know.

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  3. impressive... i read this book or another one a lot like it quite a few years ago... the history of medicine is a good example of how, if not why, humans are resistant to change: a trait notoriously obvious today...

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    1. It can be hard to adapt. I can be guilty of avoiding new experiences and I was not like that in my younger years. I embraced novelty then. Now I like things the way they were.

      But, we don't want to fulfill the definition of insanity either...

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  4. Sounds like a great book, Sharon. I love reading medical books - I started reading through a huge medical dictionary & and obstetrics manual my mum had when I was in my early teens & on my way home from school I used to stop in at the hospital & ride in the lifts hoping to get a glimpse of people coming out of theatre. Weird, I know, but I thought it was all fascinating.
    You have my 'problem' - a son who tower over you. Actually all my kids have been looking down on mw since they turned 12. Great photos, btw.

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    1. Hi Carol! Are you petite or are your children tall? I'm 5'6 and my son is 6'2. He was a big baby. I tell people he did not get wider, just taller. :)

      I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who is fascinated by medicine. I have Grey's Anatomy and a Vet Manual I picked up at a garage sale. I like perusing through them.

      It really is a fascinating subject.

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    2. I'm 5'1" - just - so it's no great feat for them to tower over me. Still, my eldest son is about 6'1" - my husband's about 5'11" My youngest is hoping she's still growing & was so relieved when she passed me!

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    3. That's so funny. When I was twelve years old I was 5'6 and weighed 128 pounds. In middle school I was head and shoulders and heavier than most of the other students, including the boys. I always wanted to be short.

      My mother's side of the family is small. I have cousins that are barely five feet and teeny tiny, probably not a hundred pounds.

      So I felt like Godzilla walking around. I wished I was small.

      Nowadays, I'm not really tall anymore. I know a lot of girls taller than me. More than a few that are six feet.

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  5. This one sounds very interesting. I didn't know how much Lister contributed to the medical world. When I think about how everyone ignorantly passed around deadly germs and performed other habits we now know better about, it makes me wonder if there is something we do today that will shock future generations. On the lines of...100 years from now, perhaps people will say: 'Can you believe people used to eat animals?' Looks like you had a fun time on your D.C. side trip!

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    1. You raise an interesting question. I'm trying to think of something we do that would turn out to be unhygienic. I hope it doesn't turn out to be eating chocolate.

      D.C. is a great town. That was my fifth visit.

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I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.