Ether the Magic of Painless Surgery

Dr Crawford Williamson Long and ETHER to create painless surgery. In March 1842, Dr Crawford Williamson Long removed 2 tumours from the neck of a Mr James Venable under ether anaesthesia. But how did Dr Long come to this discovery? When Dr Crawford Long was at school and at Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, it was fashionable with students to inhale gases like ether to create “hilarious antics”. Dr Long took part in these sessions and observed the effects of ether during “laughing gas” parties and “ether frolics” as they were called.

He noticed insensitivity to any pain, bumps, bruises and some people would fall asleep, while under the effects of the drug but then the ether wore off. Ether is a colourless, highly flammable liquid with a strong sweet smell and causes unconsciousness when you breathe it in. Ether has 4 characteristics that make it a good chemical for anaesthesia. They are anaesthetic (puts you to sleep), analgesic (stops pain), amnesia (failure to remember) and muscle relaxant.

Dr Long wrote:- “On several occasions I inhaled the ether for its exhilarating properties and would frequently discover bruises or painful spots on my person which I had no recollection of causing, and which I felt satisfied were received while under the influence of ether…” Dr Long performing the procedure Bottle of ether dripping onto towel Dr Long at first did not believe that a state of mesmerism occurred, but that it was a state of imagination. So, to test his theory he removed 3 tumours from a patient, on the same day.

He only used breathing ether on the second tumour while for the first and third tumour were removed without anaesthetic. He found that the patient suffered extreme pain when ether was not used. He then tested his theory again with a patient who needed to have 2 fingers amputated. He operated on 2 separate days, one with ether and one without. His results were the same as the previous patient. Soaked towel used to drip ether onto Sketch drawing of Dr Longs first surgical procedure using ether on Mr Venable’s The surgery that he performed on Mr Venable’s was with the use of an ether soaked towel over the nose and mouth.

He then removed a tumour from the back of the patient’s neck. The patient did not feel any part of the extraction and was surprised at the size of the 1. 5cm diameter cyst that was removed. Dr Long’s actual transcript from the operation reads: “The patient continued to inhale ether during the time of the operation, and seemed incredulous until the tumor was shown to him. He gave no evidence of pain during the operation and assured me after it was over that he did not experience the least degree of pain from its performance. ” Mr Venable’s sitting during operation.

Constant ether being dripped onto towel Tumour was removed from the back to patients neck Once anaesthetised Mr Venable was sat up and surgery was performed on the back of his neck. Dr Long’s trainee doctors assisting him with the first surgery Later Dr Long performed ether surgery to deliver his wife’s second child, teeth removal and other cysts. The significant discovery of ether as an anaesthetic was a turning point for world medical surgery. Before the discovery of anaesthesia, surgeons used crude methods for pain relief.

Examples of this were:- herbs and plants like marijuana, opium and belladonna, hypnotism and mesmerism, or nettles to create a counter allergy to distract the patient from the procedure. Alcohol was the preferred pain relief but the patient had to drink large quantities to become anaesthetised. Some doctors resorted to punching the patient in the jaw to knock them unconscious. The experiments lead by Dr Long allowed other doctors to focus on the surgery they were doing rather than the reaction of the patient from the pain. Dr Long was born 1st November 1815 in Georgia USA.

At the age of 14 he attended the University of Georgia in Athens and received a Masters of Arts in 1835 at the age of 19. In 1836 he began medical training in Transylvania College in Kentucky, then transferred to University of Pennsylvania and got his medical certificate in 1839. The following 18 months he went to several hospitals and observed several top surgeons to master his skills. He went back home to Georgia in 1841 and started his small town practice in Jefferson. Dr Crawford Long died of a stroke on 16th June 1878 at the age of 62.

He was giving a pregnant mother some ether during delivery of her child and said to the assisting staff “ care for the mother and child first”. Long did not advertise or publish his experiment or his results to the professional world nor did he get any public recognition for what he had done. He finally published his results 7 years later in 1849. Two other doctors took credit for discovering ether, William Morton and Charles Jackson from Harvard University. Once Long, released his findings he was recognised as the founder of ether.

His defence for not publicising his experiment was:- “to present my claim to being the first to use ether as an anaesthetic in surgical operations if I were not fully satisfied of my ability to establish its justice. ”(Lond,1849/1992. p. p. 710) I believe the justification for the experiments was the pain association with surgery was initially seen as a form of torture. The main motivation for discovering a chemical to use as an anaesthetic was to save millions of people’s lives, that were dying from diseases that could be cured by surgery and to make it pain free.

Before anaesthetic, surgery was performed with no pain relief and was extremely painful. Surgeons used many other cruel methods as mentioned above. In many surgeries, several large men were needed to hold down patients and surgeons had to make themselves numb to patients’ pleas for mercy, coping with the screams by working as quickly as possible. The discovery of ether was a turning point for the medicine world and surgery. Doctors could then concentrate on the surgery without worrying about the safety of the patient, the pain and shrieks.

Although local people respected Dr Long as a doctor they were not happy about his method of experiments on human beings. At times he was referred to as reckless and mad but it was their ignorance that prevented him from further testing his theory. He was forced to bribe patients to try ether before he could use the method. He even had the patient pay for the ether and the surgery. In summing up Dr Longs experiments using ether changed the world of medicine forever.

His methods would not be acceptable in today’s society as we cannot conduct scientific experiments directly on human beings without the knowledge of possible side effects. The use of anaesthetic ether show that Dr Long understood the significance of what he was doing. It also shows that he was being appropriately cautious in announcing to the world that ether was, a reliable anaesthetic. Ether’s popularity declined in the mid `1900’s because of electrical equipment. The vapour needed for anaesthesia could cause fires and explosions when near electrical equipment. Ether is not used as an anaesthetic today but is still used to make perfumes, explosives and other products.

Its chemical name is ethyl ether or diethyl ether. BIBLIOGRAPHY Edwin Munson,(1995), http://wc. rootsweb. ancestry. com/cgi-bin/igm. cgi? op=GET&db=cwh001 David Pearce,(2008),Utopian surgery, http://www. general-anesthsia. com/index. html Dr Hani,(2010), History of Anaesthesia, http://explorable. com/history-of-anesthesia. html University of Hawaii, Singapore Med, (2005), Crawford father of modern anaesthesiology. http://www. sma. org. sg/Smj/4611/4611ms1. pdf University of Georgia,(2003), Roger. K. Thomas, Ph. D, Crawfords discovery of anaesthesia.

http://rkthoma. myweb. uga. edu/LongSSPP. htm Long,C. W. (1849/1992). An account of the first use of Sulphuric Ether by Inhalation as an Anaesthetic in Surgical Operations. Southern Medical and Surgical Journal,5, Park ridge, Ohio: the Wood Library Museum Georgia Public Broadcasting, (2010), http://www. gpb. org/georgiastories/stories/dr_crawford_long_painless_operations Adam Blatner, MD, (2009), The discovery and invention of anaesthesia http://www. blatner. com/adam/consctransf/historyofmedicine/4-anesthesia/hxanesthes. html.

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