Today’s Anesthetizing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
The greatest gift of the United States to surgery was probably the discovery of general anesthesia, the use of which was first publicly demonstrated in 1846 by personnel from Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital. Four years earlier, however, an unassuming doctor in rural Georgia, Crawford Williamson Long, M.D. (1815-1878), had used sulfuric ether for general anesthesia when operating on a patient with a tumor. Not until 1849 did Long, prodded by friends, announce his deed; the reason for his delay remains unknown; perhaps, being out of medical school only three years, he may not have recognized the importance of anesthesia.
Surgery in rural practice was uncommon even in those days; patients who needed operations were sent to major medical centers just as they are today. Few doctors performed surgery unless presented with emergency circumstances, as the lack of anesthesia made undergoing the procedure excruciatingly painful. Patients had to be forcibly restrained by attendants, and the trauma of surgery was enough to make some go into fatal shock. Thus, one measure of the surgeon’s skill was how quickly he could operate; great surgeons could remove an arm in thirty seconds, and a leg in about a minute. Anesthesia was a great boon in that, in addition to its obvious ability to remove pain from the process, it also permitted lengthy and precise operations.
Dr. Long had used general anesthesia seven times before the Harvard demonstration. Nevertheless, the honors normally bestowed by Congress and other organizations for such an accomplishment never materialized, owing to his own delay in reportage as well as to infighting among the three Massachusetts pioneers, who spent their lives competing for primary recognition. Horace Wells, D.D.S., became a chloroform addict and killed himself with an overdose in a jail cell in New York City. With Wells dead, William T.G. Morton, D.D.S., and Charles Thomas Jackson, M.D., continued to battle for attention and acceptance as the discoverer of general anesthesia. Destitute, battle weary, and embittered, Morton died of a stroke in 1868 after reading an article on primacy by Jackson claiming credit. Jackson himself had a mental breakdown, and died in 1880 at the McLean Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts. Wells was ultimately declared the prime discoverer of general anesthesia; however, neither he nor the other two men received public recognition or financial benefit for this in their lifetime.
By contrast, after Dr. Long had put in his claim, he simply went back to work in his rural practice. For this tintype (below) Long held the knife for an amputation while his younger brother gave the patient anesthesia and an attendant held surgical paraphernalia. The scene is accurate to its era, the surgeon’s street dress and the overall lack of sterility having been standard. Shy of notoriety, Dr. Long did not have many photographs taken during his lifetime.
With the exception of daguerreotypes made at Massachusetts General in 1846 and 1847, this is the only extant photograph of an operation taken prior to the Civil War. Thus, it is an important record of the state of surgery in the United States during the nineteenth century.
What Deadly Diseases Look Like On Your Body
It’s probably silly of me to share this because… if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you sickos already know what deadly diseases look like! You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time gawking over horrible images doing your own research, haven’t you? But, in any event, I found this an entrancing little video with convincing makeup – and a great message to anti-vaxxers to boot! (Thanks to Kimberly for the link.)