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The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia

Anaesthesia and Surgery has been around for centuries, why according to Genesis

“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed its place with flesh"5

So you can say that the Lord God performed the very first operation under anaesthesia, and not the Americans! Of course the Americans would dispute this, as a Christian however, I will not.

Now in today’s world we still cannot induce anaesthesia without the aid of one drug or another; we use synthetic fibres such as nylon, vycryl and prolene to close the surgical wound.

Since the good Lord created woman from the rib of man, humankind has had to rely upon alcohol, opium, mandrake and other less effective means of attaining a form of reasonable anaesthesia. It was not until the nineteenth century that modern anaesthesia, as we know it today was born. The breakthrough came on the 16 October 1846 at Boston University Hospital Massachusetts; William Thomas Green Morton  anaesthetised successfully Edward  Gilbert Abbott who was a printer, for an excision of a vascular tumour under the mandible.

J.C Warren the eminent surgeon who carried out the surgical procedure was led to exclaim,

“Gentlemen this is no Humbug.

This statement referring to Horace Wells failed attempt a year earlier.

The drug Morton  used that day was Diethyl Ether. 

Following this demonstration it has been alleged that Morton  tried to hide the identity of the substance Abbott had inhaled (Ether). He referred to it as “Letheon." It was said that he had intentions to patent the substance and profit highly from its use. Fig 5

 However, the "Letheon"  that contained a masking agent. It was known however that Morton, did offer free rights to the technique to charitable institutions. Having had surgery in his younger days he was committed to the eradication of suffering during surgery.

Morton, recieive a patent for Letheon in the USA but he never did receive any royalties, as he died prematurely.

 The established medical profession was at odds with Morton,  for not being completely honest; the sad thing is because of the dispute about the discovery and his premature death he did not receive full credit during his lifetime.

The surgical Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital still exists today, although it is used for lectures and not surgery. The public can still visit the amphitheatre when it’s not in use.

 We must however not dispute the fact that modern anaesthesia owes its official discovery to Morton.  He has rightly been accredited to the very first publicized demonstration. On his graveside monument is inscribed

“Inventor and Revealer of inhalation Anaesthesia; before whom in all time, Surgery was agony; by whom Pain was averted and annulled; since whom, Science has control of Pain”

It is of my opinion that Morton,  revealed the fantastic effects of ether  to the world, as regards to being the inventor! This I challenge, the word inventor generally describes the main creator, and I believe Morton, made use of a substance which was known for centuries.

It is not my intention to play down Mortons, contribution to the discovery of anaesthesia, just to highlight the facts that led to his successful demonstration, which involved many people from many nations.

Europe, Asia and then America produced the pioneers who prepared the ground for this momentous discovery.  This discovery in my view is the greatest discovery that the scientific world has produced, it has relieved the world of a great deal of suffering and with its invention allowed surgeons to extend the lifespan of a multitude of people over time.

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