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Learning from Lister

Commonplace book

Page from commonplace book showing Lister's diagrams of a sponge drawn in ink, with lateral view and view from base, along with his accompanying notes in manuscriptLister’s commonplace book, c1880. From the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.Lister noted the results of scientific experiments in his commonplace book.

Sponges, a natural product from the Mediterranean, have been used for a long time as an adjunct to wound dressing. From the 17th century onwards, their use began to be criticised, as their abuse could lead to sepsis. However, antiseptic surgeons used sponges, moistened with terebene and water, as an antiseptic dressing following an amputation at the hip joint. The sponges were held over the stump by three long strips of plaster.

Lister’s notes, shown here, concern the washing of sponges, for which carbolic acid and boiling water were needed.

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