When you go to the doctor, you usually just assume the person probing your colon or manhandling your boobs is a perfectly sane, highly educated individual. Otherwise you wouldn't let him get so intimate with your inside parts.
But throughout history, there have been risk-taking, don't-give-a-shit doctors who were part Rambo, part MacGyver and part House (specifically, the crazy part of House).
#5. Robert Liston: Speed Surgeon
In the world prior to the 20th century, every wound was a potential case of gangrene. The only cure was to amputate the gangrenous limb, which sucked even more than you'd think, as this was also a world without anesthesia. Pain management was nothing more than a swig of whiskey and a knock on the head with a hammer, Tweety Bird style.
While the patient was just told to quit whining by the now inebriated doctor.
So in those days, a merciful surgery was a fast surgery. When the gangrene fairy hit your house and the leg had to come off, the best you could hope for was a surgeon with sharp instruments, a lightning-quick hand and careful precision.
Robert Liston had the first two.
Liston could amputate your whole leg in less than three minutes -- skin, bone, muscle, tendon, right through. When every second is filled with excruciating pain and blood loss, that speed had to have made Liston seem like an angel of mercy. Though speed comes at a price.
"I came here to perform surgery and I don't much care upon who."
Let's imagine it's 1820 and your leg has turned so green people think you're a quarter Hulk. You've taken your whiskey and hear your doctor walk in the door. Then you hear your audience walk in the room, followed by the booming, confident voice of the doctor demanding, "Gentlemen -- time me!" Suddenly, your lifesaving procedure is now performance art for Robert "The Flash" Liston. Which was probably pretty nerve wracking for everyone involved, considering he was known to swing his scalpel a bit this way and that in the heat of the moment. Sure, he was able to amputate a leg in 150 seconds, but he occasionally took the patient's testicles as well. Just cut them right off.
"You wouldn't have boned anyone anyway, Captain Lean-to."
And it wasn't just the patients who sometimes got accidental pro bono operations. While extremely skilled, Liston's knife hand was kind of like a giant twister made of hacksaws. So even standing too close while he operated could be a literally life-threatening endeavor.
Liston's most famous case perfectly demonstrated both his amazing surgical speed and his total disregard of what was going around him: an operation in which he actually managed an impossible 300% mortality rate. In a frantic two and a half minutes, he amputated the patient's leg and the fingers of his assistant, and he slashed the coattails of a bystander. The patient and the assistant died of gangrene in the hospital later, and the bystander died of fright, because apparently people had the constitutions of fainting goats back then.
But that's OK, because Liston also created this handy Silent Hill-style restraint.
Liston's reign as surgeon supreme was finally ended by the arrival of working anesthetics, which rendered his lightning surgery unnecessary. So he gave up the slasher film method of operation and pioneered the use of anesthetics instead.
Begrudgingly, we assume.
This is him just straight up murdering the inventor.
#4. Dominique Jean Larrey Was a One-Man Medical A-Team
So let's say you're not only a surgeon, but also a surgeon in Napoleon's army. No anesthesia, no warm bed to go home to at night -- you're pretty much left on the battlefield alone with nothing but a scalpel and a cravat. If you're Dominique Jean Larrey, it doesn't matter that it's the 1800s and that none of the tools you really need have been invented yet. You'll invent them.
"Nice MRI. I made mine out of a light bulb and some string."
With the exception of Playboy magazine and the helicopter, Larrey single-handedly created everything a wartime medic could need. Roughly one hundred percent of basic equipment and procedures of modern military medicine trace back to shit that was MacGyvered together by Larrey. When he thought they'd need a more efficient way for transporting the medics and the wounded, he commandeered a bunch of French artillery carriages and converted them, thus inventing the ambulance. When he decided he'd like some organization around him, he commandeered a bunch of men and invented medical troops. First efficient battlefield amputation and open-wound surgery techniques? Larrey. Equal treatment of all wounded soldiers? Larrey. Field hospitals? Oh yes, Larrey.
You can remove someone's limbs and go on a jolly little holiday in one vehicle.
He wasn't just some surgeon general shouting orders from the outskirts of the battlefield. Although he ranked fairly high in the chain of command, he was right there in the fray whenever he could be, personally performing emergency operations as cannons exploded around him.
He was no slouch, either: his personal best was an unimaginable 200 amputations in 24 hours. Unsurprisingly, soldiers loved the shit out of Larrey. He was treated as a hero wherever he went, to the point where weary and defeated French troops actually lifted him above their heads and crowd-surfed him during Napoleon's retreat from Russia -- just so that he'd be the first one to safety.
"If you'd stop posing for one moment, I may be able to save your goddamned life."
The notoriously self-obsessed Napoleon did not mind Larrey's vast popularity one bit -- in fact, he was the president of the Larrey Fan Club, with several remarks that the doctor was pretty much the worthiest guy he'd ever met. Larrey was, in fact, so revered that the Duke of Wellington -- one of Napoleon's bitterest enemies and a commander in the battle of Waterloo -- gave specific orders to his men not to fire at that one French guy and his troops, because DAMN.
As a final Hollywood plot twist, someone disobeyed the order and Larrey sustained a gunshot wound. Ironically, he was left wounded on the battlefield until the opposing Prussians found and captured him. Bearing an enemy officer's uniform, he was promptly sentenced to death -- until the Prussian commander happened to pass by and immediately released him ... because one of the enemy soldiers Larrey had treated just happened to be the commander's son.
"I appreciate the effort, guys, but I think a bonnet's more of a lady thing."
#3. Lidia Soto Performs a Live Grenade Removal
Imagine you're a street vendor, minding your business, selling your friendship bracelets or funnel cakes or whatever, when out of nowhere a huge rock hits you in the head, lodging itself in your face. That would be awful, right? OK, now imagine that it wasn't a rock, but a grenade. A live one. A LIVE GRENADE IS STUCK IN YOUR FACE AS YOU TRY TO SELL YOUR FISH TACOS ON THE STREETS OF MEXICO.
That's what happened to Karla Flores. Somebody had to get the grenade out, or the poor woman wasn't going to have any other options but to go to an open field and wait until she had a giggle fit or sneezed.
"Oh God oh God. I'm allergic to grenades."
Somehow, she ended up at the Mexican Culiacan General Hospital, presumably through the Angel Ambulance network, which is run by actual angels with no fear of death.
Once there, volunteers were called upon to help the poor woman with a bomb stuck in her grill. What was expected was the shuffling of feet and sudden interest in the patterns on the ceiling -- after all, if it detonated, the grenade could take out anyone in a 32-foot radius. What was not expected was the hand that shot up from the gaggle of hesitant doctors. Lidia Soto was in the house, and she would take on that damn grenade.
"I'm sick of having to change my socks every time someone wets themselves over a tiny little explosive."
Along with two anesthesiologists and a nurse, Soto performed the excruciating operation in a field, where what was possibly the world's first surgical detonation area was jointly set up by the hospital and the Mexican army (which also provided the explosives experts). And remember, the doctor and nurse had to take orders from the experts -- how else were they supposed to know what was bomb and what was not-bomb? It was like one of those intense Speed red wire or blue wire moments -- but on someone's face.
It took hours of steady hands and calm nerves, all the time in full knowledge that the slightest mistake would detonate the grenade and turn the whole field into one big Jackson Pollock painting. But Soto succeeded, and Karla Flores escaped certain death with just some scarring and some lost teeth.
"You'd be surprised at what seems fair when the alternative is exploding."