Little Bits of History

Nighty night

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 4, 2012

Humphry Davy

November 4, 1847: Chloroform’s anesthetic properties are discovered. Chloroform is an organic compound with the formula CHCl3. It is a colorless, sweet-smelling, dense liquid and is considered somewhat hazardous. It comes from many different sources and was discovered by three different independent researchers. It was reported in 1831 by a Frenchman, an American, and a German with each scientist describing the same compound. Chloroform can be used as a solvent, it’s most common use today. It can also be used as a reagent in organic synthesis. But on this day, its anesthetic properties were first discovered. The vapor depresses the central nervous system and allows a doctor to perform otherwise painful procedures without distress to the patient.

Childbirth has always been a rather painful undertaking and to be able to relieve the discomfort of the process had long been a goal. Beginning in 1799, Sir Humphry Davy used nitrous oxide or laughing gas to lessen the pain of delivery. While it did help, it wasn’t quite the answer and so further investigations continued. Ether was originally dismissed due to the irritation it caused to the lungs. In 1847, James Young Simpson and his colleagues were attempting to find a substitute for ether as a general anesthetic. They breathed in some of the vapor and noticed their mood lightening, but then they suddenly collapsed and did not awaken until the next day. As soon as he woke up, Simpson knew he had found something useful.

The entire experiment was quite serendipitous. If they hadn’t inhaled enough, they wouldn’t have fallen asleep; if they had inhaled too much, they would have died. They next practiced with Miss Petrie, Simpson’s niece. She, too, fell asleep. The use of the drug soon spread and the pain of childbirth was lessened for many women of the time. Simpson was a sought after obstetrician for more than just his anesthetic discovery. He was often described as a free thinker and was willing to use that to enhance his medical practice. He was an early advocate of using midwives in a hospital setting. His home was also a meeting place for many of the social elites of the time, regardless of his medical proclivities. His interests also spanned other subjects, such as archaeology and hermaphroditism.

He was created a Baronet, of Strathavon in the County of Linlithgow, and of the City of Edinburgh, in 1866. He was 58 years old when he died at home at 52 Queen Street. A burial spot was offered at Westminster Abbey, but the family declined and he is instead buried in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh. Even so, a memorial bust was placed in the Abbey. On the day of his funeral, a Scottish holiday was declared and over 100,000 citizens lined the streets to see their great son on his way to his final resting place.

All pain is per se and especially in excess, destructive and ultimately fatal in its nature and effects. – James Young Simpson

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

Married sex is like being awake during your own autopsy. It is root canal work without anesthetic. – Al Goldstein

The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness. – David Foster Wallace

Also on this day:

Symbolism – In 1899, Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in Germany.
Chartists – In 1839, the Newport Uprising ended in bloodshed.
Erie Canal – In 1825, the “Wedding of the Waters” took place.

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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