A Look Through the Eyes of History in Achieving Painless Surgeries


From opium poppy extracted from black henbane to using propofol, thiopental, ketamine etc. as anesthetics, much time has passed (Harrison, 2003). After many trials and errors and countless deaths of patients whose names we do not know, modern day anesthetics were developed which is a key part in operating any medical surgery. Anesthesia is known as the act of applying anesthetics or medicines that cause a temporary reversible loss of awareness and sensation
without harming the patient (Anesthetic – Wikipedia, n.d.). The importance of anesthesia in medical surgery can not be put to words and modern-day surgeons are highly grateful towards their ancestors for developing such a wonder.

History of anesthesia

In the present, patients do not feel a sting during surgery. However, it was not always so. Due to the excruciating pain associated with having a surgery, it was a rare incident that patients would agree to put themselves under a scissor (Adriani, 1972; Eckenhoff, 1966; Harrison, 2003). A successful use of anesthesia was in the year 1846 before which small dose of opium or alcohol was used to numb the patients during a surgery which was still extremely painful (Harrison,
It was not that scientists and doctors did not attempt to find any numbing agents or any methods to alleviate the patient’s pains during a surgery. Early attempts included making the patient unconscious by a blow to his head (Harrison, 2003). However, this is not a natural process.
Another method that was widely employed was compressing the carotid arteries in the neck knocking him senseless (Harrison, 2003; Wildsmith, 2018). All these methods could not producethe same effects as modern day anesthetics do because none could provide a painless experience to the patients during surgery.

Development of modern anesthetics

Sir Humphrey Davy in 1799 first mentioned the property of nitrous oxide gas to produce pain relief which was attempted by Dr. Horace Wells in 1946 to extract a teeth (Harrison, 2003; Robinson & Toledo, 2012). Although nitrous oxide could reduce the pain experience by the patient, he still groaned and attempted moving which indicates that this gas is not suitable as a pain reliever (Robinson & Toledo, 2012). Following his footsteps, Dr. William T.G. Morton a dentist from Boston was in search of a better chemical agent that nitrous oxide to use as a pain reliever (Robinson & Toledo, 2012). After discussing with Dr. Charles Thomas Jackson, a Harvard chemist, he found that ether gas was a far better agent that did not let his patients feel any pain during teeth extraction (Robinson & Toledo, 2012). His success quickly spread around town, and he was invited to apply his findings in a vascular tumor operation. Dr. Morton successfully applied ether to the patient and he fell in deep slumber that allowed a successful excision of tumor (Robinson & Toledo, 2012). Dr. Morton’s discovery has gave him the name-
Founder of Modern Anesthesia (Robinson & Toledo, 2012).


Dr. Morton’s success was quickly followed by Professor James Young Simpson who discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform and claimed it to be a better alternative compared to ether (Harrison, 2003; Wildsmith, 2018). With time, the field of anesthesiology has advanced and sophisticated methods of local and general anesthesia and more potent chemicals such as propofol, thiopental, ketamine etc. have been developed and used in modern day surgery.


Adriani, J. (1972). Four decades of association with the pioneers of anesthesiology. Anesthesia
and Analgesia, 51(5), 665–670. https://doi.org/10.1213/00000539-197209000-00001
Anesthetic – Wikipedia. (n.d.). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anesthetic
Eckenhoff, J. (1966). Anesthesia from colonial times a history of anesthesia at the University of Pennsylvania.

Harrison, G. R. (2003). History of anaesthesia. In Anaesthesia (Vol. 58, Issue 8, p. 825).
Robinson, D. H., & Toledo, A. H. (2012). Historical development of modern anesthesia. Journal
of Investigative Surgery, 25(3), 141–149. https://doi.org/10.3109/08941939.2012.690328
Wildsmith, T. (2018). The History of Anaesthesia | The Royal College of Anaesthetists.

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