Esthesia: History of Anesthesia, Part 1 of 3

(a history of anesthesia or anaesthesia)

A history of anesthesia or "pain killing" techniques throughout history

Anesthesia, historical background and the the word's origin

Pain, however useful as a warning signal designed to keep living organisms from damaging themselves too badly, becomes useless agony when operations must be performed.

Attempts to control pain were many. The use of alcohol or some form of what came to be called hypnotism was old. Acupuncture was used in the Orient. The new chemistry also contributed nitrous oxide, which, when inhaled, served to suppress the sensation of pain.

As time went on, substances; such as, diethyl ether (more commonly simply called ether) and chloroform were found to cause unconsciousness during which the sensation of pain disappeared. Ether came to be use by physicians during operations, the first to do so being an American physician, Crawford Williamson Long (1815-1878), who used it in 1842 to remove a tumor. He did not publish or publicize his work, however.

An American dentist, William Thomas Green Morton (1819-1868), used ether on a patient in September, 1846, while extracting a tooth. The patient told about the experience to a newspaper, and Morton was urged to demonstrate the use of ether during an operation at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

It was this demonstration that effectively introduced the practice into medicine, so that Morton usually gets credit for the discovery of this method of suppressing pain during the dental process.

American physician Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) suggested the term anesthesia, from the Greek words meaning "no sensation"

Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician-poet and the father of the Supreme Court justice of the same name, wrote the following on November 21, 1846:

“Every body wants to have a hand in a great discovery. All I will do is to give you a hint or two as to names—or the name—to be applied to the state produced and the agent. The state should, I think, be called ‘Anaesthesia’ (from the Greek word anaisthesia, ‘lack of sensation’). This signifies insensibility . . . The adjective will be ‘Anaesthetic’. Thus we might say the state of Anaesthesia, or the anaesthetic state.”

This citation is taken from a letter to William Thomas Green Morton, who in October of that year had successfully demonstrated the use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Although anaesthesia is recorded in Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary in 1721, it is clear that Holmes really was responsible for its entry into the language. The Oxford English Dictionary has several citations for anesthesia and anesthetic in 1847 and 1848, indicating that the words gained rapid acceptance.

—Compiled from information located in
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
3rd edition; Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston; 1992; page 70.

Ulysses S. Grant, Commander-in-Chief of the Union forces during the Civil War and President of the United States died of throat cancer in 1885.

“Grant’s consumption (of cigars) zoomed to 20 stogies a day, a habit he continued until doctors ordered him to quit in 1884. He died of throat cancer in 1885, after losing 70 of his 200 pounds and becoming addicted to cocaine to ease the pain.”

— “A Stogie Warning, chic-and dangerous,” Newsweek, December 2, 1996, page 75.

Arrow pointing to word info word unit You will find many other words and definitions about esthesia or "feeling" words by going to this list of esthesia unit of words.

Arrow pointing to words and info sections Esthesia: History of Anesthesia, Part 2 of 3.

Arrow pointing to words and info sections The index of anesthesia history, Parts 1, 2, and 3.