The Age of Discovery
William Thomas green Morton (1819-1868)
Morton went into partnership with Horace Wells in 1842-1843 and this is where he became motivated to finding a substance that was suitable for dental and surgical procedures.
The partnership did not last, that is when Morton decided to study Medicine at Harvard in 1844.
So it was on the 16 October 1846 at Boston University Hospital Massachusetts when William Thomas Green Morton delivered four minutes of inhalation ether and anaesthetised Edward G Abbott who was a printer from that city.
John Collins Warren the eminent surgeon who carried out the surgical procedure was led to exclaim, “Gentlemen this is no Humbug.” This statement probably referring to Horace Wells failed attempt a year earlier.
The drug Morton used that day was Ether.
The following day Morton’s second successful demonstration went better than the first when surgeon George Hayward removed a large tumour from a woman's arm.
Henry Bigelow wrote:
"The present operation was performed by Dr. Warren, and though comparatively slight, involved an incision near the lower jaw of some inches in extent. During the operation the patient muttered, as in a semi-conscious state, and afterwards stated that the pain was consider- able, though mitigated; in his own words, as though the skin had been scratched with a hoe. There was, probably, in this instance, some defect in the process of inhalation, for on the following day the vapour was administered to another patient with complete success. A fatty tumour of considerable size was removed, by Dr. Hayward, from the arm of a woman near the deltoid muscle. The operation lasted four or five minutes, during which time the patient betrayed occasional marks of uneasiness; but upon subsequently regaining her consciousness, professed not only to have felt no pain, but to have been insensible to surrounding objects, to have known nothing of the operation, being only uneasy about a child left at home. No doubt, I think, existed, in the minds of those who saw this operation, that the unconsciousness was real; nor could the imagination be accused of any share in the production of these remarkable phenomena."
With the official discovery of anaesthesia, surgery took gigantic steps forward. With Ether and later Chloroform the patient suffered no direct surgical pain during the surgical procedure, the surgeons then pursued surgical cures for almost any condition, which could warrant it.
In a letter to Morton, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) (who is better known for writing hymns,) suggested the word ‘anaesthesia’. Which had been used by the Greeks 185 and when translated means:
It is quite a shame that this discovery was clouded by the bitter fight for recognition with Charles Jackson the Chemist being the main accuser to Morton and Horace Wells.
Morton's greatest mistake was however to try and hide the real identity of the substance.
Morton added some odour-masking impurities to ether and called it a different name Letheon, thinking to benefit financially by the discovery.
The mainstream of medicine at the time felt that the medical institutions and patients were being held to ransom for a substance that was widely available but its identity hidden.
The problem for Morton, Ether, having been around for centuries, could not be patented.
This fight the recognition of discovery (and $100,000 reward) went on and is likely to have led to the premature deaths of all three involved.
The inscription in the “Ether Dome” at Boston Hospital reads:
“On October 16, 1846, in this hall, the former operating theatre occurred the first public demonstration of narcosis, which resulted in analgesia during a major surgical intervention. Ether sulphurous was applied by William Thomas Green Morton, a dentist from Boston. Gilbert Abbot was the patient and a neoplasm of the jaw was removed by John Collins Warren. The patient declared that he did not feel any pain and he was emitted whole on December 7th. This discovery has spread from this room and opened a new era for surgery.” 186
Morton died suddenly of "brain congestion" in 1868. He received recognition eventually by the Academia.
Morton Epitaph reads:
"By whom pain in surgery was averted and annulled, before whom in all time surgery was agony, since whom science has control of pain,"
It is not widely known but the first appendectomy was carried out by WTG Mortons son, George Thomas Morton.
The discovery of Anaesthesia spread around the world quickly, arriving in England later that year, with it being used successfully to extract a tooth in London by James Robinson in December 1846.
"Gentleman this is no Humbug"