Henry Jacob Bigelow 1818-1890

Henry Bigelow was born in Boston Massachusetts in 1818. He was the son of a doctor and followed in his father’s footsteps and entered into the profession with the aim of pursuing a career as an Orthopaedic surgeon.

He graduated from Harvard College in 1837. Dr. James Jackson said about Dr. Bigelow while he was still at school, “If he does not become a distinguished man it will because Boston is not a large enough field for his ability.” Prior to attending Harvard Medical School where he received his medical degree in 1841, Dr. Bigelow spent a period of time studying medicine abroad in Paris and London, under the direction of famed doctor Sir James Paget. After graduating, he opened a private practice devoted to surgery. 276

He took some time to complete his studies as illness and travels to Europe impeded his progress.

Although eventually becoming a very eminent professor of orthopaedics, and lecturer at his father’s place of work Harvard University, he is best known for his contribution to the publicising of the discovery of anaesthesia at his hospital (Massachusetts).

It was a paper written by him on Morton's discovery that went around the world announcing the birth of painless operations by the use of Sulphuric ether. Insensibility during surgical operations produced by inhalation. below is an extract:

On the 16th of Oct., 1846, an operation was performed at the hospital upon a patient who had inhaled a preparation administered by Dr. Morton, a dentist of this city, with the alleged intention of producing insensibility to pain.

Dr. Morton was understood to have extracted teeth under similar circumstances, without the knowledge of the patient. 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 considerable, 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.

Having gradually retired from practice his last two years were spent at his country place, Oak Hill, Newton, where, while driving, he was thrown from his carriage, receiving a blow on the head that was followed by a long illness. There he died, October 30, 1890, from a non-malignant stenosis of the pyloric orifice of the stomach as verified by Post Mortem.277




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