The Discovery And Controversy Over The First

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The Discovery And Controversy Over The First Use Of Surgical Anesthesi Essay, Research Paper Dennis Brindell Fradin wrote in ”We Have Conquered Pain”: The Discovery of Anesthesia, “We take it for granted that we can sleep through operations without feeling any pain. But until about 150 years ago, the operating room was a virtual torture chamber because surgeons had no way to prevent the pain caused by their healing knives.” Fradin is right. Since several analyses of archaic human bones have proven that people have suffered from disease and pain since the beginning of their existence, one can only assume the tremendous pain humans had to endure before the discovery of anesthesia. The four brilliant men who ended mankind’s suffering also had to endure immense anguish

after the discovery; their involvement erupted into a maelstrom of controversy, which contributed to early deaths and insanity, even though the discovery of surgical anesthesia has had such a positive effect on humanity.1 Prior to the discovery, surgeons would tie, strap, or hold down their patients to keep them from running off during surgery. Many times, the surgeon would give alcohol or narcotics to patients in order for the patient to better face the indescribable pain. However, those that actually survived the surgery (chances are, they didn’t) swore they would have preferred death instead of the excruciating pain they had to endure.2 Even Dr. John Collins Warren, a senior surgeon before the discovery of anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, agreed

that patients would rather die than have surgery. After Dr. Warren finished an amputation in 1844, before the discovery of anesthetics, he told himself, “The knife that heals must first give pain.”3 To have fully conscious, screaming patients during an operation even made surgeons not want to perform surgery. However, the discovery of surgical anesthesia changed the way most, including surgeons, perceived surgery. Although surgical anesthesia was not discovered until the middle of the nineteenth century, there were significant contributions by talented thinkers made more than one hundred years before the discovery.4 The list of those contributors includes Joseph Priestley, who discovered hydrogen in 1766, nitrogen in 1772, and oxygen and nitrous oxide in 1774 and also

introduced inhalation as a way to administer medicine5, Humphrey Davy, who proved nitrous oxide was not poisonous6, and Henry Hill Hickman, who made the first successful experiments with nitrous oxide on lower animals7. After these advances in the early nineteenth century, the most popular experiment at scientific exhibits was for the students to become intoxicated by inhaling ether or nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas, in the United States. Such experiments became so popular that students entertained themselves outside of class by holding ether parties. These parties, frequently called “ether frolics,” were common all over the country. It was the ether frolics that eventually led to the realization that ether can cause unconsciousness and, with that, relief of

pain.8 In the small village of Jefferson, Georgia, an ether frolic was scheduled in early 1841. This event attracted the attention of Crawford Williamson Long, a young doctor living in a nearby town, who later held ether frolics in his own home as a form of entertainment. Long afterward noted that although guests at his ether parties were terribly bruised from hitting objects while unconscious, they were frequently not felt or seen until several days later. Long decided that being intoxicated with ether might produce the same degree of insensibility during a surgical operation.9 Meanwhile, James Venable, one of Long’s friends who had participated in the ether frolics, wanted Long to remove two tumors on the side of his neck. Venable was fearful of surgery, and on March 30,