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Ether Day: October 16, 1846: William Morton demonstrates Anesthesia

Ether Day: October 16, 1846: William Morton demonstrates Anesthesia The Evolution of General Anesthesia

Up until the middle of the 19th century, anesthesia was not a feature of surgery. Instead, patients were simply required to withstand the pain of the procedure, perhaps with the aid of alcohol, opiates (such as laudanum), a bite-board, and physical restraints. Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), the pioneering electrochemist, discovered the effects of nitrous oxide on headache and dental pain during his research on respiratory physiology; but his report went unnoticed in the medical community and the substance was quickly consigned to use at "laughing gas" parties. In 1845, Horace Wells, an American dentist, attempted to use nitrous oxide for anesthesia during a dental extraction, but the demonstration failed. But on October 16, 1846, William Morton, another dentist, employed ether in the surgical removal of a tumor with no signs or reports of pain in the patient. That event is now celebrated in hospitals and medical schools throughout the world as "Ether Day" (Fenster, 2001). Morton died in 1868, and his tombstone in Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery carries the following epitaph, composed by Bigelow:

Inventor and Revealer of Inhalation Anesthesia:

Before Whom, in All Time, Surgery was Agony;

By Whom, Pain in Surgery was Averted and Annulled;

Since Whom, Science has Control of Pain.


Ether Day: October 16, 1846: William Morton demonstrates Anesthesia

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