The PioneersThe MilitaryReferences


The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia

The developments of the fundamental principles of surgery we see today are as a direct result of the experiences of these battlefield surgeons throughout time. Battlefield surgery is the father of modern day surgery.

It is a fact that the eventual discovery of modern general anaesthesia has very quickly and radically changed the whole course of medical science; in a very short time indeed, the discovery of anaesthesia has opened doors that have encouraged the surgeon to develop the sophisticated surgical procedures that we see performed today.

It must not be forgotten that without the discovery and success of the modern anaesthetics, surgery would still be a rare occurrence confined to abscess drainage, stone removal and amputations.

Fig 4

To reinforce my point, in 1838 eight years before the introduction of anaesthetics in the UK, it has been said that the entire city of Glasgow’s surgeons undertook less than 120 operations, with on average one surgical session per week in the Fig 4alarger hospitals, 10 years later this increased to 10000. 4

The sad fact of the matter was that before the discovery of anaesthesia, people would rather die than be subjected to the surgeon’s knife. Those that did consent to amputation or other surgery, often suffered from severe shock and post-operative depression.

The American nation because of Morton ’s achievement, would like us to believe that anaesthesia is an all American invention! But the Europeans, Asians and Africans have played an important role in the “invention” of anaesthesia.

The principles of battlefield surgery are being employed today in hospitals in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Camp Bastion  in Afghanistan, and even here where I work at Northallerton. It is to this end that I have produced this article, to make you more familiar with the roots of surgery and anaesthesia.


Those who undertake theatre practise as an occupation will at some time in their career be asked where it all started. You can after reading this, answer some of those questions.

The understanding of the history of Surgery and Anaesthesia is not critical to your development as a theatre Nurse or Practitioner, but to know a little about your professions history is I believe a good thing. 


Next Page