JF Ptak Science Books Post 2256
It is almost always the case that when you look at paintngs of surgeons at work—standing by or with or in their patients, surrounded by assistants and with a small crowd in attendance—and especially before say 1895 (the year of discovery of the X-Ray by Wilhelm Roentgen), that you will almost never see anyone wearing surgical gloves. And there's good reason for that—surgical gloves really didn't make a general appearance until right about that time.
The idea of hyper-clean in the OR didn't really exist until Joseph Lister began his practice of antispesis in the 1860's—introducing washing surgical instruments in carbolic acid, and keeping the operating area clean and somewhat sterile. He used it in prep, and on the incision wound, and dressings, and instruments, and the effect was enormous. By what we take today as a “given” was a revolutionary advance when Lister started the practice in the 1860's. People today think of his surname in connection with something different but somewhat related, and from exposure to television commercials for a certain mouthwash, but this would be like knowing the importance of Isaac Newton from those figgy cookies—and that just isn’t right. Lister (1827-1912) figured out—through exposure to ideas by Ignaz Semmelweiss and Louis Pasteur, among others—that the infections in wounds that caused so many surgical deaths was not caused by the miasma in the air, but by something entirely different.
In his article in The Lancet of 21 September 1867 (and in his subsequent publication in book form later that year called Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery) he explained what he thought was the cause—microorganisms that traveled (at least) from the surgeon’s hands onto the wound, and not by something floating around in the air.
And thus the carbolic acid (phenol) and its application and miraculous results in operative and post-operative infection. This is one of the reasons why Lister is considered to be one of the founder of modern surgery.
It is a little odd (at least from today's viewpoint) that it would take several more decades for the next major step to be taken—the introduction of the rubber glove in the surgical arena. Rubber capable of being used for gloves hadn't been around for all that lone a time, though there are some instances of surgeons using partial gloves made of sheep innards that reach back in the 1730's. But it just didn't happen--at least until nearly the turn of the next century.
Well, there was some slight use in the 1830's, but it wasn't until 1893 that the wonderfully-named Dr. J.C. Bloodgood insisted on glove use by his entire surgical team, though that was still fairly localized. It was W.Steward Halstead's adoption of the surgical glove at Johns Hopkins that really gave the idea national exposure, and so he is generally credited with the glove's "discovery", which is not true; it is true that he was responsible for the glove's widespread use. Halsdtead is a giant in the history of medicine, and although this is not among his great discoveries in medicine, it did probably save more lives than anything else he ever did.
A good background on the rubber glove used in medicine is found at the Kiwi blog From the Nest, here. http://www.fromthenest.co.nz/2012/05/brief-history-of-the-surgical-glove.html