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Dr. Courtney Leddell Discusses the History of Anesthesia

October 17, 2012

The need to reduce pain during surgery had been known since ancient times, and early doctors used soporifics and narcotics in an attempt to ease their patients’ discomfort. However, it took until the mid-19th century for a more reliable and scientific method of anesthesia to be introduced.

During the 1840s, several people laid claim as the first to perform surgery without pain. Initially, Dr. William Morton received popular attention. A Massachusetts dentist, Dr. Morton utilized ether to painlessly remove a tumor from a patient in 1846. Shortly after he made news for his discovery, other doctors professed that they applied similar methods earlier. Dr. Crawford Long alleged that he used ether in operations since 1841 and had inspired Dr. Morton. Dr. Charles Jackson also claimed to influence Dr. Morton and, with the support of Oliver Wendell Holmes, appealed to Congress to receive credit as the drug’s creator. Additionally, the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association endorsed Dr. Horace Wells, who pulled teeth with nitrous oxide in 1845. Also during this period, Dr. James Simpson experimented with the less-safe chloroform to put patients under. Despite the debate, no single name is identified as the father of modern day anesthetics.

About the Author:

The Vice President at Consulting Anesthesiologists in Normal, Illinois, Dr. Courtney Leddell monitors the use of Propofol on patients. A board-certified anesthesiologist, Dr. Leddell completed an anesthesia residency at the University of Iowa College of Medicine.


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