Two Hundred Years of Surgery

by Christopher Paul on May 28, 2012

The New England Journal of Medicine has an article talking about the advances in surgery of the last two hundred years. It’s impossible for us to imagine a world without anstisia or antiseptics but, in the history medical science, those are recent discoveries that have vastly changed the way we think of life, mortality, and curing the sick. Just read this passage to get a small sense for what it was like before:

“Before anesthesia, the sounds of patients thrashing and screaming filled operating rooms. So, from the first use of surgical anesthesia, observers were struck by the stillness and silence. In London, Liston called ether anesthesia a “Yankee dodge” — having seen fads such as hypnotism come and go — but he tried it nonetheless, performing the first amputation with the use of anesthesia, in a 36-year-old butler with a septic knee, 2 months after the publication of Bigelow’s report.10 As the historian Richard Hollingham recounts, from the case records, a rubber tube was connected to a flask of ether gas, and the patient was told to breathe through it for 2 or 3 minutes.12 He became motionless and quiet. Throughout the procedure, he did not make a sound or even grimace. “When are you going to begin?” asked the patient a few moments later. He had felt nothing. “This Yankee dodge beats mesmerism hollow,” Liston exclaimed.”

The article can be a bit detailed at times so if you’re a little squeemish, you might want to avoid it. But it’s still a nice, brief, overview of how far we’ve come in the past two hundred years or so.

Previous post:

Next post: