Richard Gordon describes Liston as “the fastest knife in the West End. He could amputate a leg in 21⁄2 minutes”. Indeed, he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient; he is said to have been able to perform the removal of a limb in an amputation in 28 seconds.
A good reminder that fast doesn’t always mean efficient:
Amputated the leg in under 21⁄2 minutes (the patient died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene). He amputated in addition the fingers of his young assistant (who died afterwards in the ward from hospital gangrene). He also slashed through the coat tails of a distinguished surgical spectator, who was so terrified that the knife had pierced his vitals he dropped dead from fright.
That was the only operation in history with a 300 percent mortality.