The Age of Discovery
Horace Wells 1815-1848
In 1844 the dentist Horace Wells first observed the effects of nitrous oxide when he had it demonstrated on him by Gardner Quincy Colton, a member of a circus. During a performance, a young man by the name of Cooley had Nitrous Oxide administered to him and fell into a chair on the stage and cut and bruised his leg to the laughter of the audience. Wells, who said to him that that must have hurt, Cooley replied he never, felt a thing at which at that point he started to feel the pain from the bruising. It was then that Wells suggested to Colton about the possibility of having a tooth extracted under nitrous oxide. He decided to try it on himself. 177
Wells had a molar extracted by Dr John Riggs and he felt nothing. Wells then began experimenting with nitrous oxide and extracting teeth on his own patients, they were suffering no pain what so ever, he was quoted as saying:
“A new era in dentistry and tooth pulling, the greatest discovery ever made.”
He approached John. Collins Warren 1778-1856 a surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital and was invited to demonstrate the technique.
The nitrous was not delivered for long enough or an insufficient dose was administered and the patient felt pain, Wells was booed out of the operating room with cries of Humbug, Humbug?
It so happened that a former pupil of Wells, 178 a certain W.G. Morton
Was at this demonstration and it was this that possibly gave him the impetus to perfect the procedure. Wells was unfairly discredited by the medical establishment and never recovered from the humiliation. Wells gave up dentistry and became a travelling salesman for the next couple of years selling household items and canaries.
In 1847 Wells was approached by WG Morton and was asked to market his Lethe-on in Europe. While in Europe he became addicted to Ethers rival Chloroform , and became unbalanced, so in January 1848 he returned to the USA. One day in New York whilst hallucinating, Wells threw Sulphuric acid over a couple of prostitutes; he was arrested for this act and was imprisoned.
In despair after realising his appalling crime, Wells committed suicide by slicing open his femoral artery whilst under the influence of drugs. 179
The lessons of science should be experimental also. The sight of a planet through a telescope is worth all the course on astronomy; the shock of the electric spark in the elbow out values all theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an artificial volcano, are better than volumes of chemistry180