Joseph Lister's publication of On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery presented to the medical world Lister's method of using antiseptics made from carbolic acid during surgery. Lister hoped to use disinfectants to not only effectively heal more surgical patients but to disprove the current theory that infections during surgery were caused when oxygen entered human tissue. Although it took some time, Lister's use of antisepsis radically changed the way surgery was undertaken, as well as the way hospitals, physicians, and the entire medical system functioned in England. This had a profound impact on the condition and application of medical treatment in regards to the poor of the England. However, as no link has been sufficiently drawn between the quality of health care provided to the poor of England and the introduction of antiseptics into mainstream medical use by Joseph Lister, I shall answer the question: "How did the use of disinfectants by Joseph Lister and other late 19th Century physicians to change the way surgical wounds were treated affect the quality and amount of medical treatment given to the English poor from 1880 to 1912?"
[...] One example can be seen in Lister's presentation on fermentation to the student's of King's College Hospital, which was regarded by his followers as brilliant and most hopeful beginning of what [they] regarded as a campaign in the enemy's country” (Walker, 160). These feelings came largely from Lister's own feelings on the matter. Lister's antiseptic principles often went unheard during his stay at King's, and he often was forced to lecture to nearly empty halls, given the radically new quality of his practices. [...]
[...] Antiseptics helped combat deadly diseases such as cholera, eradicate hospital gangrene, pyaemia, erysipelas, and allow for a wider variety of medical operations, such as surgical procedures involving the cranium or spine, to be conducted. However, these things would not have occurred without Lister's determination to gain acceptance for the antiseptic principle of surgical treatment. Lister's numerous speeches, meetings, writings, lectures, and treatments of patients using antiseptics made it impossible for any honest person to refute the benefits of antiseptics. Consequently, antiseptics found their way into every hospital in England, much to the benefit of its patients, including the poor. [...]
[...] Lister's continued success at effectively treating patients using new methods involving antiseptics provided enormous reason for others to admit the benefits of antiseptic treatment for a wide variety of surgical procedures and adopt their use in their own facilities. When Lister's findings were put to use in the majority of hospitals in England, more people began to visit hospitals than ever before, with 5,451,675 outpatients in all London hospitals in 1904 compared with only 1,082,259 in 1887 (Brand 192). The use of antiseptics to effectively treat and heal wounds played an enormous role in transforming the hospital from a place of death to a place of healing, encouraging movement towards the hospital. [...]
[...] The effectiveness of these preventive measures can be seen in such cases as one cholera epidemics of 1894 and 1895, when 42,000 Russians died from the disease, but no English inhabitant did. These preventative measures did not exist prior to the widespread use of antiseptics, as knowledge of bacteria and how to destroy it did not exist prior to Lister's introduction of antiseptics (Furst, Medical 13). Lister's and other scientist's work with antiseptics also helped spur improvement of the poor law program as a whole. [...]
[...] When considering the effectiveness of antiseptics in the treatment of surgical wounds, one needs look no further than Lister's own studies on the subject. Lister found that the use of antiseptics to treat wounds greatly reduced the need for amputation and the chance of infection, while the chance of total recovery from severe and minor injuries greatly increased. For example, Lister, in regards to a patient who had received a severe injury to his arm from a machine at a fair, related to the medical community: “Without the assistance of the antiseptic treatment, I should certainly have thought of nothing else but amputation at the shoulder joint but the boy continued free from unfavorable symptoms [and] found merely a superficial sore (main text). [...]
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