The Surgery With the 300% Mortality Rate

Kamie Berry | October 10th, 2017

For most of his medical career Robert Liston (born in 1794 in Scotland) was a well-regarded and competent surgeon. His surgical skills were phenomenal, with much lower mortality rates than most of his fellow physicians.

The reason for Dr. Liston’s low mortality rate was his incredible speed when performing surgeries. Since there was no anesthesia in his day and limited means for controlling bleeding during surgery, a surgeon’s speed could mean the difference between surviving an operation or bleeding out before it was finished. Liston was known as the “fastest knife on the West End”- the West End was the fashionable area of London in which he worked. He was known to tell spectators in his operating room to time him to see how fast he could finish an operation. Because of his speed and skill, his mortality rate during surgery was only about 10% at a time when the average surgical mortality rate was closer to 25%.

all-that-is-interesting.com

During one surgery, though, Dr. Liston had some incredibly bad luck, and it is this mishap that has been remembered more than his many successes.

Dr. Liston was getting ready to amputate a patient’s leg at the hip. According to bystander reports, he was so focused on speed that when he brought his surgical blade down he also cut off the fingers of his assistant. In the confusion that resulted after this accident, Dr. Liston also cut through the dress coat of an elderly doctor who was observing the surgery.

Dr. Liston did not actually cut the older man, but it gave him a severe fright. Seeing all the blood, he must have thought he had been sliced open. The terrified man then fell to the floor, had a massive heart attack, and died on the spot.

If this had been the only death to result from this surgery, we might not be talking about it today. Unfortunately for Dr. Liston, this botched operation would claim two more lives. Within days of the surgery, the original patient’s stump became gangrenous and he died. The surgical instrument he used must have been contaminated somehow because his assistant- the one who lost his fingers- also died from an infection shortly thereafter. This is the only surgery ever recorded to have a 300% mortality rate.

Given this horrible incident, it is not surprising that Dr. Liston became the first surgeon in Europe to use ether to sedate a patient. If you ever need surgery, you can thank Dr. Liston for helping to popularize the use of anesthesia. It’s just unfortunate that he will forever be remembered for causing three deaths while operating on one person.

Next Article
  • A Sealed Garden That Was Last Watered 46 Years Ago

    One keen gardener was curious in 1960 and decided to plant a seed in a bottle which he promptly sealed up. David Latimer never thought he would be on to one of the first self-sustaining ecosystems, which has become an amazing case study for biologists around the world. When you break it down, this plant...

    Read More
  • Olympics Athletes Are Zapping Their Brain For Performance Increases

    A strange phenomenon is taking over the sports industry at an alarming pace, one that sees professional athletes zapping their brain in name of increasing their performance. The technology uses brain simulation with the goal of increasing everything an Olympic athlete needs to grab that gold medal. The basic explanation...

    Read More
  • The Sea Creature That Eats Its Own Brain

    There is one little creature that lives in tidal pools and over shallow ocean areas, that has a rather strange and fascinating characteristic: it eats its own brain. The sea squirt is a little undersea animal which is part of the tunicate family. Whenever poked or threatened, this small animal...

    Read More
  • Pokemon Go A Security Fear For The Pentagon

    If you happen to love Pokemon Go but work for the American government at the Pentagon, well that is just too bad. All employees are banned from playing Pokemon Go inside the Pentagon walls, due to its mapping features. Anyone working at the facility in Arlington, Virginia has been given...

    Read More
  • The Infamous Porthemmet Beach Hoax

    In some regions of the world no matter how much the local area survives off tourism, there is just a general distaste for tourists in general. All these strangers tramping around your Townsquare asking for directions, one of those places in Wales. With all the coastlines and beautiful beaches, locals can tend to get very...

    Read More
  • A Castaway Who Survived 14 Months At Sea

    One man defied all the odds and was able to survive lost at sea for over 14 months. This is no story of being washed up on an island and finding coconuts, this man just drifted around the ocean for months on end. He is called Jose Salvador Alvarenga and...

    Read More
  • The Romans Actually Invented The Swiss Army Knife

    When you think of the Swiss Army Knife you would have thought it was invented in Switzerland - and it was, unless you count Roman’s version as the first one. A spoon, a knife, a fork, and toothpick - all the tools you need to extract the meat out of the shells of seafood. This...

    Read More