Thursday, 31 July 2008

Out for the count

With advances in surgery and medicine happening all the time, have you ever considered what the early days of surgery were like? To relieve some of the pain of, for example, having a limb amputated or a bladder stone removed, patients were given opium, alcohol or simply knocked unconscious with a blow to the head. Nitrous oxide gas (laughing gas) was used to knock out patients during dental work in the mid 1800s and this was followed by the first surgical use of ether in 1842. Chloroform had been around since 1831; in 1847 James Young Simpson of Edinburgh found out about its quick acting properties when he sampled some and ended up under his dining room table.
The India Papers contains the Report of the Hyderabad Chloroform Commission from 1891, when Edward Lawrie was investigating the alleged dangers of chloroform. Deaths had occured under chloroform and scientists at the time were attempting to discover whether fatalities were due to heart or respiratory failure. The report covers over 400 detailed animal experiments and 54 human surgical trials. It also contains much correspondence from doctors via The Lancet. Dudley W. Buxton wrote in 1890: "Without fear or dread must he [the anaesthetist] be prepared to give one or the other anaesthetic, but he must be keenly alive to all the possible contigencies of each, and not live in a fool's paradise that if he only obeys certain rules and directions he and his patient are safe."