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James Watt

This Month in Anesthesia History: August

1743 August 26: Antoine Laurent Lavoisier was born in Paris. Among his many accomplishments he researched and named oxygen. He was beheaded during the French revolution on May 8, 1794.

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Antoine Laurent Lavoisier
Line engraving by Louis Jean Desire Delaistre, after a design by Julien Leopold Boilly


1774 August 12: Robert Southey, future English poet laureate and biographer of Lord Nelson, was born. Southey was also one of numerous famous or soon-to-be famous individuals who participated in the nitrous oxide experiments conducted in 1799 and 1800 by Dr. Thomas Beddoes and Humphry Davy at the Pneumatic Medical Institute in Clifton, just outside Bristol, England.

1809 August 29: American physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes was born. In 1846 Holmes suggested the word "anaesthesia" for the state of unconsciousness William T.G. Morton induced with ether in patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

1819 August 9: William Thomas Green Morton, was born in Charlton City, Massachusetts. In October, 1846, Morton--a dentist--made the first successful “public” demonstration of surgical anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Morton's story is told most recently in a massive biography by Richard Wolfe, Tarnished Idol: William Thomas Green Morton and the Introduction of Surgical Anesthesia; A Chronicle of the Ether Controversy. (Norman Publishing, 2001) Morton died on July 15, 1868, in New York City. 

1819 August 25: James Watt died near Birmingham, England. Watt, of workable steam engine fame, developed a partnership in the mid-1780s with Thomas Beddoes as Beddoes attempted to market his therapeutic applications of Priestley's "factitious airs" or gases. Watt developed equipment for Beddoes' use; some of this equipment was later used in Bristol during the nitrous oxide experiments of 1799 and 1800. Watt, his wife, and one of his sons, James Jr., participated along with numerous others in those experiments.

1842 August 26:  Heinrich Irenaeus Quincke, German internist was born in Frankfurt an der Oder  Among other notable medical achievements, in the early 1890s  Quincke introduced lumbar puncture as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. Quincke died on May 19, 1922.

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Heinrich Irenaeus Quincke


1849 August 23: English poet, critic and editor William Ernest Henley was born. As a young man, Henley underwent an operation for a club foot. This experience resulted in a series of poems published as In Hospital (1873-75). In one of those poems, "Before", Henley wrote: "Behold me waiting--waiting for the knife./A little while, and at a leap I storm/ The thick, sweet mystery of chloroform,/The drunken dark, the little death-in-life." The complete text of the collection can be found at http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/henley/inhospital/contents.html  In addition to his own work, Henley wrote several plays with his friend Robert Louis Stevenson. Henley died in 1903. 

henley
W.E. Henley

1867 August 25: English chemist and physicist Michael Faraday died. In 1818 Faraday, a student of Humphry Davy, published a brief anonymous article in the Quarterly Journal of Science and the Arts in which he noted the lethargic state that could be produced by the inhalation of ether vapor. Faraday is best known for his pioneering experiments in electricity and magnetism. He was born September 22, 1791, at Newington, Surrey, near London. A recent biography is Michael Faraday by Geoffrey Cantor et al (1996). 

 

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Michael Faraday


1868 August: Joseph Thomas Clover presented his paper "On the Administration of Nitrous Oxide" at the British Medical Association meeting at Oxford.

Joseph T Clover administering chloroform.
Joseph T. Clover, M.D., administering chloroform
[Source:
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/chloroform.aspx ]

1868 August: Coxeter and Son in England began marketing an apparatus employing a cylinder of gas, a reservoir bag and a Clover face mask.

1869 September 23:  American poet Edgar Lee Masters was born. In his classic collection Spoon River Anthology, Masters includes the story of "Searcy Foote" who murders his invalid Aunt Persis because she won't let him go away to college: "And a bottle of chloroform on the book,/ She used sometimes for an aching tooth!/ I poured the chloroform on a handkerchief/ And held it to her nose till she died." Foote got away with the crime and inherited his aunt's fortune. Masters died in 1950.

 

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Edgar Lee Masters

1871 August 27: American author Theodore Dreiser was born in Sullivan, Indiana. Dreiser's best known works are probably his novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. In February 1915 Dreiser published in Smart Set magazine his one-act play "Laughing Gas" in which a physician having surgery has a mystical experience while under nitrous oxide anesthesia. [see Wright AJ. Theodore Dreiser's "Laughing Gas." Anesth Analg 69:391-392, 1989] Dreiser died on December 28, 1945, in Hollywood, California.

 

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Theodore Dreiser, photographed
by Carl Van Vechten, 1933

1875 August 4: Danish author Hans Christian Andersen died in Copenhagen. Andersen was a frequent traveler and kept a diary during his trips. In August, 1847, he visited Edinburgh, Scotland, for several days. Several dinners were arranged by the locals for this famous author, and on the night of August 17 Andersen and numerous others dined at the house of prominent physician James Young Simpson. In his autobiography, Andersen wrote that "...in the large circle which was gathered there several experiments were made with breathing in ether. I thought it distasteful, especially to see ladies in this dreamy intoxication...there was something unpleasant about it, and I said so, recognizing at the same time that it was a wonderful and blessed invention to use in painful operations..." Simpson did not discover the anesthetic properties of chloroform until November of that year. [See Secher O. Hans Andersen and James Young Simpson. Br J Anaesth 44:1212-1216, 1972] Andersen was born in Odense on April 2, 1805. 

 

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Hans Christian Andersen 
Photograph taken by Thora Hallager, 1869


1897 August 10:  On this date a thirty-year old German chemist, Felix Hoffman, synthesized a batch of acetylsalicylic acid, a combination of salicylic acid and acetyl chloride. Salicylic acid occurs in the bark of certain willow trees and has been known as an analgesic since at least the first century A.D. In 1838 salicylic acid was isolated, but alone produces stomach pain and in large doses gastrointestinal bleeding. A French scientist combined it with acetyl chloride in 1853 to produce a less irritating analgesic, but his discovery was forgotten until Hoffman's work. Hoffman's employer, the Bayer Company, quickly began to market the drug as Aspirin.

1898 August 10: Gardner Quincy Colton died in Geneva, Switzerland.

1898 August 16: Surgeon August Bier of Greifswald, Germany, administered the first spinal anesthetic, a solution of cocaine, in a human, his assistant Hildebrandt. Bier had previously tried the technique successfully in animals. Soon Bier used the technique in patients. [See Goerig M, Agarwal K, Schulte am Esch J. The versatile August Bier (1861-1949), father of spinal anesthesia. J Clin Anesth. 2000 Nov;12(7):561-9 AND  Van Zundert A, Goerig M. August Bier 1861-1949. A tribute to a great surgeon who contributed much to the development of modern anesthesia on the 50th anniversary of his death. Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2000 Jan-Feb;25(1):26-33]

1898 August 29: Author and film director Preston Sturges was born in Chicago, Illinois. Sturges became well-known for such films as The Great McGinty [1940] and Sullivan's Travels [1942]. Sturges also wrote and directed The Great Moment [1944], based on the life of William T.G. Morton, and the only Hollywood feature film ever made about the history of anesthesia. . Morton was played by Joel McCrea, who had also starred in Sullivan's Travels. Sturges died in New York City on August 6, 1959. [See Heynick F. William T.G. Morton and "The Great Moment". J Hist Dent. 2003 Mar;51(1):27-35. ]

1899 August 9: Author Pamela Lyndon Travers was born [as Helen Lyndon Goff] in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. She wrote as P.L. Travers and her best-known work is Mary Poppins [1934], the first of 11 books featuring the character. The Disney film version was released on August 29, 1964. One chapter from the book, "Laughing Gas," set at Uncle Albert Wigg's birthday party, was filmed for the movie and almost removed by Walt Disney. However, after numerous viewings of the scene featuring raucous laughter by actors Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Ed Wynn, Disney allowed it to remain in the finished film. The chapter was published individually as Mr. Wigg's Birthday Party in the Little Golden Books series in 1952. P.L. Travers died on April 23, 1996. 

 

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P.L. Travers, appearing in the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream

1910 August 26: American psycholgist William James died. Among his many other accomplishments, James self-experimented with nitrous oxide inhalation and left a brief but vivid description of his experience. James was also a long-time supporter of the philosophy Benjamin Paul Blood described in his work The Anaesthetic Revelation [1874].

1935 August 15:  American humorist and author Will Rogers died. Rogers was born on November 4, 1879, in Indian Territory [what is now Oklahoma].  Rogers had a long career on stage, radio and in films; he also wrote some 4,000 syndicated newspaper columns and six books. He was especially known for his political humor. Among his books is Ether & Me...or Just Relax [1937, reprinted in 1973], a humorous account of a visit to the dentist. Along with famed pilot Wiley Post, Rogers died in a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska. Learn more about Rogers at http://www.cmgww.com/historic/rogers/index.php   

1935 August 17: Feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman commited suicide in Pasadena, California. In the note she left behind, Perkins [who was a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction] said she "chose chloroform over [breast] cancer" pain. The use of chloroform by suicides was apparently wide-spread for several decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tom Roberts, the father of Mary Roberts Rinehart--one of the most successful American writers of the first half of the twentieth century--committed suicide in 1895 with chloroform, assisted by a gunshot through the heart. A search of the New York Times archive for the period produces dozens of articles with titles like “Suicide by Chloroform”, “Suicide Uses Chloroform” and also “Nurse Commits Suicide” [by placing her head in a pan of chloroform!]. No doubt other newspapers around the country were also filled with such sad cases. A very odd account appeared in the New York Times on March 1, 1905: “Suicide Agreed with Osler; Old Man in St. Louis Chloroformed Himself After Reading Lecture.” The gentleman had apparently taken seriously William Osler’s notorious, tongue-in-cheek lecture remark the previous month that men [but not women!] over the age of sixty were useless and should seek “peaceful departure by chloroform.”  His remarks had been widely reported—and condemned-in the national press. [See Johnson JA. Osler recommends chloroform at sixty. Pharos 59: 24-26, 1996]

 

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman


1937 August 11: Novelist Edith Wharton died in France. Among her numerous novels is Twilight Sleep [1927], a satirical portrait of the wealthy during the Jazz Age of the 1920s. The novel includes scenes of the administration of scopolamine for pain relief during childbirth, a popular method of the day called "twilight sleep." Wharton was born January 24, 1862, in New York City.

1955 August 21: Noel Alexander Gillespie, died of a heart attack in Madison, WI at the age of 50.  Emily Rieder, Noel's mother, befriended T. E. Lawrence while she was a teacher at the American Mission School in Jabail, Syria.  Lawrence suggested books for Noel to read and advised Emily about Noel's education.  Gillespie took a leave of absence from his studies as an Oxford undergraduate and traveled to Lambarene with Albert Schweitzer in 1924.  He received a D. M. degree from Oxford based on the first thesis concerning anesthesia, "Endotracheal Nitrous Oxide-Oxygen-Ether Anaesthesia in Neurological Surgery."  He trained in anaesthetics at London Hospital and later was elected to the consultant staff.  Gillespie invented the Shadwell Laryngoscope in 1936, named after the pediatric hospital where he was working with the plastic surgeon, T. P. Kilner.  In 1935 Noel visited prominent American anesthetists during a three month tour.  He spent two weeks in Madison, Wisconsin with Ralph Waters.  The next year Gillespie hosted the Waters family during their trip to England.  During this trip Waters spoke on cyclopropane to the British Medical Association meeting in Oxford in July and on carbon dioxide absorption to the Anaesthetic Section of the Royal Society of Medicine in October.  Gillespie left his practice at the London Hospital and joined Waters at the University of Wisconsin in May 1939.  He wrote his classic monograph, Endotracheal Anaesthesia, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1941) while in Madison. [Entry written by Mark Schroeder, M.D.]

1970 August: Drs. H.J.C. Swan and William Ganz of Los Angeles introduced the pulmonary artery catheter into clinical practice.

1974: August 7: Virginia Apgar, obstetric anesthesiologist who developed the famous scoring system for evaluating newborns, died in New York City.

1989 August 28: Sir Robert Reynolds Macintosh died after head injuries sustained during a fall. Although born in New Zealand in 1897, Sir Robert moved to England at the start of World War I and that remained his home. In February 1943 he published an article in _Lancet_ about the laryngoscope blade that bears his name. He published four books on regional anesthesia between the late 1940s and early 1950s. After World War II he devoted much effort to improving anesthetic practice in developing countries. [see Boulton TB. Professor Sir Robert Macintosh, 1897-1989: personal reflections on a remarkable man and his career. Reg Anesth 18:145-154, 1993]

2008 August 11: Dr. Leslie Rendell-Baker died in Redlands, California. Dr. Rendell-Baker was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, England, on March 27, 1917. He received his M.D. from Guy's Hospital Medical School in London in 1941 and entered the Royal Army Medical Corps the following year. After training in Scotland, Dr. Rendell-Baker and his medical team landed at Queen Red Beach on D-Day; he continued to serve in Europe until Christmas, 1946. After the war he trained in anesthesia at Guy's Hospital and then settled permanently in the U.S. in 1957. He spent several years at Western Reserve University Hospital in Cleveland, and then served as Chair of the Anesthesiology Department at Mount Sinai Hospital and Medical School in NYC from 1962 until 1979. He then moved to California where he held a post at the VA Hospital in Loma Linda until his retirement in 1998. Dr. Rendell-Baker co-authored three anesthesia textbooks, 11 book chapters and numerous journal articles. In the 1960s he and dental surgeon Dr. Donald Soucek developed a face mask for use in children that became a world-wide standard. That device is described in Dr. Rendell-Baker's entry in Notable Names in Anaesthesia [J. Roger Maltby, ed., 2002, pp. 173-175] During his later years, Dr. Rendell-Baker pursued an interest in the history of his specialty.