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The Discovery and Controversy over the First Use of Surgical Anesthesi

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 06:29 AM
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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...


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