Hayes looked at his notes. “Gentlemen, as much as anesthesia has enabled us to perform more surgical procedures, our outcomes have been limited to subsequent failure and even death from sepsis and putrefaction which comes from cutting into the living human body. And while I agree anesthesia is a surgical milestone, Mr. Cotter, let me say it was a milestone occurring in 1844 with Dr. Horace Wells using nitrous oxide in Hartford Connecticut and in 1846 when Dr. William Morton used ether in Boston. England’s Dr. John Snow, in my opinion, led us to further strides with chloroform in the 1850’s but more importantly to today’s milestone which none of you have yet spoken of.” He looked at the puzzlement on his audience’s faces.
“John Snow eliminated an epidemic of Cholera by removing the pump handle from the water supply in a town so afflicted. His discovery was timely as in the past two-years Dr. Louis Pasteur demonstrated there are microorganisms which cause the infection and mortality following surgery. Just last year, Dr. Joseph Lister found a solution of carbolic acid applied to the dressings and surgical wounds decreased the incidence and consequence of operative sepsis by at least 50%. Here at Yale, our results are the same. We’ve also found washing our hands in a dilute solution of soap and carbolic acid further decreased the infection rates. You will all learn this beginning next week in the operating room. Your assignment is to read the original articles by Pasteur and Lister available in the medical library.”
Hayes devoted the remainder of the two-hours to descriptions of surgical techniques for treating abscesses and non-healing wounds. At the conclusion of his teaching, he dismissed the class. Cotter was the last to leave the amphitheatre-classroom as he completed his notes.
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