William Talling Lang

Born 1822
Occupation: Master Tailor
Married Mary Discombe King

Born in Newton Abbot the son of Oliver Lang a bargeman and Joannah Talling, by 1851 he was lodging in High Street, Bideford and starting his trade as a tailor journeyman. Died in Exeter aged only 35 on February 5 1876. He had had a disease in his knee joint for the previous 20 years which had presumably got progressively worse leading to the amputation of his leg which 11 days later turned to pyaemia (blood-poisoning accompanied by widespread abscesses) and 3 days later death.

Conditions in operating theatres in hospitals were very unhygienic in the middle of the nineteenth century and a result some 50 percent of patients died due to infection after surgery. The infected wounds were generally known as 'hospital gangrene' or sepsis, the Greek word for 'putrefaction'. The common belief seemed to be that sepsis was caused by the exposure of moist body tissue to air, with the resultant claim that wounds should be covered to keep the air out.

Although, some 12 years before Williams operation, Joseph Lister had introduced antiseptics into surgery his methods were initially met with indifference and hostility and it wasnt until 1877 when he carried out a sucessful knee operation (that would normally resulted in death) under antiseptic conditions that things started to change. News of the operation was widely publicised arousing much opposition but its success was instrumental in forcing surgical opinion throughout the world to accept that his method's greatly added to the safty of operative surgery, unfortunately too late for William.

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