- Robert Liston (1794-1847)
In the days before anaesthetics, surgery meant that patients had to be held down and suffered terrible pain. Speed and skill by the surgeon were therefore paramount and Liston had those skills in abundance. But at the end of his career, he was also the first surgeon to use a general anaesthetic.
Born at Ecclesmachan, Linlithgow, on 28 October 1794, Liston was a son of the manse and was educated at the medical school at Edinburgh University. He became a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary and a lecturer at the University in 1818. He earned a reputation not only in Scotland but in Europe and America as a daring and successful surgeon, sometimes carrying out work which others rejected. It is said that "the gleam of his knife was followed so instantaneously by the sounds of sawing as to make the two actions appear almost simultaneous". He invented the Liston splint for dislocated thighs and wrote a number of books on surgery.
He was a difficult man to deal with and he made many enemies at the Royal Infirmary. In 1835, he became professor of clinical surgery at University College, London. In 1846 he used an anaesthetic in a public operation in London in 1846, the first time this had been done. He died on 7 December, 1847, in London.
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