On 12th August 1865, a medical surgeon, Dr. Joseph Lister used phenol (a chemical antiseptic) for the first time during medical surgery. This took place in Glasgow, Scotland at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary where Lister encountered an 11-year-old boy called James Greenlees who’d been in a car accident.
Lister washed Greenlees’ wounds and dressed them with phenol (known as carbolic acid at the time). He continued to change the dressing, causing the wound to scab over and eventually heal. Within weeks, Greenlees was discharged from the hospital.
This was revolutionary because it changed the way medical procedures were carried out. In the years before, there were staggering death rates for those undergoing surgery. According to a spotlight article by Kings College London, surgeons from the 19th surgery would often note: ‘operation successful but the patient died’.
Lister found this unacceptable and began his studies into infection control, specifically destroying bacteria before it could enter open wounds. Lister went on to post a series of papers in the medical journal, The Lancet, and although it took a while, his techniques were eventually put into place all across the world.
He was able to show that:
- frequent hand washing
- using sterile dressing
- sterilizing all medical equipment and surrounding areas
…reduced infections and made lessened the time it took for patients to recover.
(Fun fact: Listerine is named after Joseph Lister, who is known as the ‘father of antiseptic surgery’.)