Saturday, October 7, 2023

the last book I ever read (President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear, excerpt thirteen)

from President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier by C. W. Goodyear:

Enlightenment glimmered in far-off corners of the profession. A British surgeon named Dr. Joseph Lister had theorized that bodily infections were not due to internal fluid imbalances, but rather tiny invisible organic invaders entering patients from without. Lister’s experiments dousing cuts, operating theaters, and scalpels with carbolic acid promptly cut rates of “paennia, hospital gangrene, or erysipelas” in his wards to near-zero. Afterward, he shared his findings (and new revulsion for pus and “putrid exhalations”) with medical societies in Britain and overseas. Yet America’s ruling class of doctors had tutted in dismissive disdain. “In order to successfully practice Mr. Lister’s antiseptic method,” one sniffed, declining even to give the Brit his due title, “it is necessary that we should believe, or act as if we believed, the atmosphere to be loaded with germs.”

A few more open-minded American practitioners did, albeit imperfectly or half-heartedly. They would flick acid over a patient’s wound, only to then sneeze into their hands and spit onto their needles before setting to work. Others tried to innovate upon Lister’s idea. One man in Missouri even invented a custom antiseptic solution named in the doctor’s honor. “Listerine” would sell middlingly, however, until sellers learned to market it as a way to clean mouths instead of wounds.

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