The Transformation of Surgery

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  • Before the discovery of anaesthetics, surgery was extremely painful. Patients had to be held down by others while having an operation because it was unbearable. 
  • The common operation was amputations because they were the easiest and quickest. Robert Liston amputated a leg in 28 seconds.
  • Horace Wells used Nitrous Oxide as an anaesthetic during dental work. 
  • William Morton discovered ether, but it caused vomiting, irritations to the chest so patients coughed while being operated on, heavy to carry around.
  • James Simpson discovered chloroform. Was much more effective, but was difficult to carry around. Hannah Greener died from an overdose. Reasons against it being accepted included religious reasons and people thought it was easier to die. Queen Victoria used it during childbirth and everyone started to accept it.
  • John Snow developed an inhaler which was more accurate.
  • Cocaine was also considered, but it turned out to be addictive.
  • With the discovery of anaesthetics, operations could be longer and more complex, but infection and blood loss were still a problem.
  • The Black Period of Surgery was when there were more operations thanks to anaesthetics, but more deaths because of infection and blood loss.


  • If patients survived the operation, many died from infection. Tools, clothes and rooms were dirty and often got inside the patients body, causing sepsis and often killing patients. They did not understand bacteria.
  • Joseph Lister found carbolic acid being used in sewage plants, so developed it to be used as an antiseptic. He used Louis Pasteur's work on Germ Theory to help him understand the germs and bacteria.
  • He first used bandages covered in carbolic acid to treat wounds, for example a 10 year old boys broken leg. Although it effectively killed bacteria, many doctors did not accept it. It was very messy, irritated the hands of the surgeons, heavy to carry around, slowed down operations and patients bodies were often covered in acid.
  • Robert Koch developed


Sarah-Beth Parker


This was very helpful thank you!! :) 



This is really helpful to me, as I am doing my GCSE.. thanks!



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perfect thanks!



This is so good and helped me loads.



thank you so much! really helpful :) **

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