24. The controversial conquering of pain

D. van Heerden


Before the extensive use of anaesthesia, great surgeons were measured by how little pain could be caused to patients in the shortest possible time. Simple operations, such as the extraction of rotting teeth, were terrible nightmares to patients. Some people compared surgery to the Spanish inquisition and there are many accounts in the literature of yells, screams, panicking, and resistance in the operating room. Because of this, before anaesthesia, surgery was mainly restricted to amputations and external growth removals and little advancements could be made over hundreds of years.
Five men make the claim to have conquered the horror of surgery in the operating room by discovering ether as an anaesthetic agent: William T.G. Morton, Charles T. Jackson, Crawford W. Long, Horace Wells, and William Clarke. However, only William T.G. Morton is credited with discovering ether as an anaesthetic agent. Mr. Morton publicly used ether during the excision of a tumour from a patient’s neck on October 16, 1846 at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
But William T.G. Morton was not the saint that he portrayed himself to be. There is no doubt that he made the first public discovery of anaesthesia but there is doubt as to whether it was because of his great knowledge and research in the field, or because he took advantage of an opportunity to display this borrowed method to the public.
Keys TE. The History of Surgical Anaesthesia. New York: Dover Publications, 1963.
Smith HM, Bacon DR. The History of Anesthesia. Clinical Anaesthesia. (PG Barash, B. Cullen, RK Stoeling, eds.) Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2006.
Wolffe RJ. Tarnished Idol. California: Norman Publishing Company, 2001.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25011/cim.v30i4.2784


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