Little Bits of History

It’s a Knock Out

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 30, 2011

Anesthesia Machine today

March 30, 1842: Dr. Crawford Long first uses ether as a general anesthetic during a procedure to remove a tumor from a man’s neck. He placed an ether-soaked towel over the man’s face while he excised the lesion. Long charged $0.25 for the anesthetic and $2.00 for the surgery. Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia in 1815 and graduated from medical school in 1839.

Ether was discovered in 1275 by Raymundus Lullus and first synthesized in 1540 by Valerius Cordus. Ether can be and has been used recreationally. Long was probably introduced to the flammable liquid in med school during “ether frolics” which were deemed more acceptable than a drinking binge. Dr. Long used ether for many procedures but did not publish his findings until 1849. By that time, William Morton, a Boston dentist, had given a public demonstration of the wonder drug at Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton was given credit for discovering general anesthesia for years.

Incas had a method for decreasing pain perception. They had coca leaves to chew while holes were drilled in skulls to allow evil spirits to escape. Unfortunately, it was the doctor who chewed the cocaine containing leaves and then spit into the wound to dull the sensation while he continued to drill the holes. Patients in other parts of the world were given opium or specially treated wines to dull the pain of medical intervention.

Today, administering anesthesia is a whole medical specialty. Anesthesiologists are doctors who “pass gas” while anesthetists are specially trained nurses doing the same thing. Anesthesia is general – completely asleep or unconscious; regional – epidurals, spinals, and limb blocks such as a Bier block; and local – where a small area is injected with medication that deadens nerve endings in a small area.

“Oh, what delight for every feeling heart to find the new year ushered in with the announcement of this noble discovery of the power to still the sense of pain, and veil the eye and memory from all the horrors of an operation. … WE HAVE CONQUERED PAIN.” – from the People’s Journal of London

“Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” – George Bernard Shaw

“It’s not the operation itself that is the concern, it’s the anesthesia. That’s a bigger risk than the operation.” – Sanjay Gupta

“Anyone who tells you it’s painless can only honestly be referring to the period the person is under anesthesia.” – Eric Collins

Also on this day:
Pencil plus – In 1858, erasers were added to pencils.
Seward’s Folly – In 1867, America bought Alaska.

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One Response

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  1. GYSC said, on March 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    We used ether a lot in organic chemistry, dangerous stuff. Nice post.

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