Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God was the first anaesthesiologist

In the days prior to the discovery of anaesthesia, prior the mid 19th century, if you had to undergo a surgery, the only meaningful choice a patient had when selecting a surgeon was to ask how fast he was. Some one like William Cheselden, an English surgeon could remove a kidney stone in 54 seconds. Dominique- Jean Larrey, Napoleon's chief surgeon could perform an amputation in 15 seconds. In the dark days of medicine, one of the important skill that one needed to have as an anaesthesiologist was a knack to crack various nuts based on the hardness of their shells. For one of the prescription directed "Place a wooden bowl on the patients head and knock him unconscious by striking the bowl with sufficient strength to crack an almond, but leave the skull intact." If nut cracking was not your thing, then one could practice the art of delicate strangulation. In this forgotten method on anaesthesia, practitioners asphyxiated their patients to the point of unconsciousness without, hopefully also killing them (today only practiced by Jack Bauer). The first chemical anaesthetic accepted by doctors was Ether, in 1846 (nitrous oxide, although was known, it was not widely used). Despite all its too-good-to-be-true properties, it was inflammable and had an unpleasant odour, which caused nausea in patients. However, as luck would have it, within a year of ether's use, a new anaesthetic was discovered - Chloroform. Although chloroform was synthesized in 1831, no one had tried it on humans. A Scottish obstetrician named James Simpson, decided to try it anyhow. So he bought some home and on September 4th 1847, shared it with his friends at a party. When Simpson later awoke on the floor, besides his unconscious guests, he became an ardent believer of chloroform. Unfortunately, although anaesthetics were rapidly accepted by medicine and society, its use remained highly controversial in one area- Childbirth. Many people held the religious view that pain of childbirth was God's just punishment for the sins of Adam and Eve. Simpson, though strongly advocated using anaesthesia for painless childbirth and on January 19, 1847 became the first person to administer anaesthesia- in this case ether- to ease the delivery of a baby to a woman with deformed pelvis. When Simpson faced angry opposition for his "satanic activities" he countered his critics by citing passages from the Bible, including suggesting that God was the first anaesthesiologist: "… and the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam… and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof.."


  1. Aarina10:40 am

    Kudos to Simpson! Excellent presence of mind!

  2. Aarina12:06 pm

    The way discoveries make their way from the unknown to the known and still all cannot be known.. Very interesting!