HEALTH: Week of events planned to celebrate pioneer of medicine – Joseph Lister

By Lucy Ashton

 On 12 August, 1865, an 11-year-old boy named James Greenlees was rushed to Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI) after being run over by a metal-wheeled cart, which crushed his left leg. Undergoing surgery then meant a 50/50 chance of survival. However, that day, he was operated on by the house surgeon, a 38-year-old Englishman named Joseph Lister, who was developing a new antiseptic technique to reduce the appalling mortality rate.

Lister cleaned the dirt from the wound, operated on the fracture and applied a dressing of carbolic acid. There was no infection, no sepsis or gangrene and the wound began to heal. After six weeks, the boy was discharged, leg intact and fully recovered to return to his grateful family.

Now more than 150 years on from pioneering work that led to the discovery of antiseptic surgery, the life and legacy of Joseph Lister is being celebrated by The Friends of Glasgow Royal Infirmary (FOGRI) a new charity, set up in May 2020 to celebrate the history of the place where Lister’s work took place, Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The charity’s Chairperson is Prof Ross Lorimer, a retired Professor of Cardiology at GRI and former President of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG).

#Listerweek, in association with the RCPSG, will be the charity’s very first event and it will be held virtually and be freely available to anyone who is interested. #Listerweek runs from 22nd to 26th February with daily presentations, a virtual exhibition and a Twitter takeover from the acclaimed author and medical historian, Lindsey Fitzharris.

FOGRI plan to organise several more events to highlight the incredible history and accomplishments associated with GRI. #GRIwomensweek, expected to be held in the spring and in association with The Friends of the Necropolis, will commemorate key female figures in the hospital’s history including Rebecca Strong, Ellen Brown Orr and Bella McDiarmid.

John Stuart, who started his nurse training in the GRI and who recently retired as Chief Nurse after a career of almost 40 years, is one of the founding members of the charity. He said: “The hospital is the oldest in Glasgow and many Glaswegians have a connection to GRI. Celebrating Lister seemed an obvious choice for our first event because his discoveries have had such an impact on healthcare and he made them whilst working at GRI. Lots of people use Listerine mouthwash but most will not make the connection – it is named after Lister, the father of antisepsis. Lister revolutionised surgery throughout the world. There are many notable figures who have worked within these walls and we wanted to bring people together by sharing the accomplishments associated with GRI over the 226 years since it opened – and who better to start with than one of our most famous sons?”

John, together with three of his colleagues, Dr Morven McElroy, Dr Hilary Wilson and Dr Kate Stevens came up with the idea for #Listerweek.

In this current climate where life is drastically different, a shared love of the GRI campus and history has created a strong sense of camaraderie within the hospital and beyond. They hope that the feeling of friendship and teamwork will endure for many years to come and that a common love of the GRI buildings and history can continue to bring everyone together. All four relish the opportunity to share the fascinating tales of GRI in days gone by with the wider community.

Dr Morven added: “We are lucky in many ways because we can still come to our work. Our work is a privilege – we get to spend time talking to people, learning about their lives and helping them. Every year, when new members of staff begin their careers, they enjoy hearing about and seeing the history within GRI.”

You can register for the #Listerweek presentations on The Friends of GRI website: http://friendsofgri.org/  They will also be available on YouTube and Twitter. You can follow the charity on Twitter @friendsofgri

Pictured top of page (left to right): Dr Kate Stevens, Dr Hilary Wilson and Dr Morven McElroy at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

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