| Compared with today, operations were extremely
variety and number, and were only a small part of a surgeon's
daily work. The main reason was the failure, through lack
of knowledge, to prevent infection developing after an
operation. The surgeon was limited to those operations where
post-operative infection would not prove fatal. Thus,
amputations, strangulated hernia, easily accessible cancers
of the skin, breast or subcutaneous tissues, and bladder
stones could be removed because infection of the surface of
the body although unpleasant was not lethal. Surface
procedures such as removal of cataracts, and arterial
ligation of aneurysm was also possible.
The absence of anaesthesia meant that speed was of the
essence, and one Guy's surgeon, Alfred Poland, amputated a leg
at the thigh in twenty-seven seconds.
Between 1860 and 1870 only 15% of surgical admissions to St.
Thomas's had an operation. The other 85% were treated, by
surgeons, with medicines, external applications and
applicances (trusses, splints, etc.) The surgeon was
responsible for inflamed organs (particularly the urinary and
reproductive organs), wounds, skin disorders and venereal
diseases. The overall death rate of surgical patients was 7%
compared with 15% treated by the physicians on the medical