Anaesthesia prevents pain signals from being received by the brain, so that the pain is not felt by the patient. Hundreds of years ago there were few ways to relieve a patient’s pain during surgery. Alcohol might be used, but it was not very effective. It was not until the nineteenth century that anaesthetic drugs began to be widely used. The first operation to be performed using a general anaesthetic was by an American surgeon, in 1842.

Anaesthesia refers to the practice of blocking the feeling of pain to allow medical and surgical procedures to be undertaken without pain.

 An ancient Italian practice was to cover a patient’s head with a wooden bowl and beat on it repeatedly until the patient lost consciousness. Presumably this method resulted in a number of side-effects the patient would not have found beneficial.

Opium and alcohol were regularly used to produce insensibility, both of which also had a number of negative side effects and neither could dull the pain completely. Few operations were possible and speed was the determinant of a successful surgeon. Patients were often tied or held down and the abdomen, chest and skull were effectively inoperable. Surgery was a last, and extremely painful, resort.

On October 16, 1846, an American dentist, William Morton, proved to the world that ether causes complete insensibility to pain during an operation performed in front of a crowd of doctors and students at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Morton instructed the patient to inhale the ether vapour and, once the patient was suitably sedated, a tumour was removed from his neck. The patient felt no pain. This demonstration transformed medical practice.

Picture Credit : Google