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Anaesthesia

Engraving 19th Century operation

Take the Panoramic Tour of the Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Alcohol, opium, henbane and mandrake had long been used to
control pain, and promote unconsciousness. However,
experience showed these drugs were unpredictable and often more dangerous to the patients than the trauma of an operation without anaesthesia. Thus, after the medieval period they fell into disuse in surgery.

Georgian experiments with gases eventually provided the breakthrough in anesthesia - but it was a long time coming. Raymond Lully in the 13th Century, and Paracelsus in the 16th Century both 'discovered' Ether - made from distillation of sulphuric acid and alcohol. The so-called 'Sweet Vitriol' had clear pain-killing properties but did not catch on.

In 1799 Humphrey Davy discovered the effects of Nitrous Oxide; in 1805 Serturner chemically extracted the active ingredient from opium and named it Morphine, and in 1815 Michael Faraday demonstrated that Ether had similar effects to laughing gas.
These potential 'wonder-drugs' had a brief vogue as an amusing parlour entertainment, but remained unexploited until the 1840s.

The first steps were taken by an american dentist, Horace Wells. William Thomas Morton performed the first surgical operation in October 1846. On 21 December of the same year the first British operation was undertaken by Robert Liston, who used ether to amputate the leg of Frederick Churchill - a butler. Liston amputated the leg in 26 seconds!

Local anaesthesia was introduced when the numbing effect of
Cocaine was first used by Dr Carl Koller - known as Coca
Koller! He was introduced to cocaine by Sigmund Freud.

   
     

 

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