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Humphry Davy portrait by Thomas Phillips

This Month in Anesthesia History: June

1667 June 15: Although the exact date is disputed, a Parisian physician and astrologer, Professor Jean-Baptiste Denis (1640?-1704, sometimes spelled "Denys"), performed the first blood transfusion involving a human on either June 15 or 28, 1667. The patient was a feverous young man on whom other doctors had employed leeches 20 times; after Denis transfused him with several ounces of either dog or lamb's blood, he "rapidly recovered from his lethargy." Denis used a similar method to cure a madman, and a few more experiments by scientists in France and London were deemed successful. Denis had first experimented with animal-to-animal transfusions; he published a letter in the Journals des Scavans describing his work. But after one patient died, Denis was tried for murder. He was exonerated -- because it turned out the patient's wife had used poison -- but soon blood transfusions were banned throughout Europe. Over a century passed before the first attempts at human-to-human transfusions. [From the Center for the Study of Technology and Society's "Today in Tech History"; see also Moore P. Blood and Justice: The Seventeenth-Century Parisian Doctor Who Made Blood Transfusion History. Wiley, 2003]

1752 June 13: English novelist and diarist Fanny Burney was born. One of her best known works is Evelina, or The History of A Young Lady's Entrance into the World, her first novel published anonymously in 1778. When her authorship of the popular novel became known, Burney's fame was assured. In 1802 Burney and her family moved to France, where they remained for ten years. On September 30, 1811, Burney underwent a mastectomy for suspected breast cancer; she refused any drugs or alcohol. Between March and May 1812, Burney wrote a detailed letter describing her experience of surgery without anesthesia. The letter, along with the doctors' report written on October 1, 1811, can be found in Hemlow J, et al, eds.,  The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay) (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975, Vol. VI, pp. 596-616). Burney died on January 6, 1840.  

1783 June 19: Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Ferdinand Serturner was born in Neuhaus, Germany. In 1805 Serturner, an assistant apothecary, discovered morphine, the active ingredient in laudanum. Serturner died in 1841.

1800 June 25: Humphry Davy completed the introduction to his classic work, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical; Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide, or Dephlogisticated Nitrous Air, and its Respiration. The work is published the following month by London publisher Joseph Johnson.

1805 June 21: Charles Thomas Jackson was born in Massachusetts. In 1846 one of his students at the Harvard Medical School, dentist William Thomas Green Morton, was searching for a gas to use to obtain pain relief in his dental patients. In January, 1845, Horace Wells had unsuccessfully tried to demonstrate anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital using nitrous oxide. Jackson suggested to Morton that he use sulfuric ether; Morton experimented with that agent on animals, himself, then his dental patients and finally in the successful surgical anesthetic at MGH in October, 1846. In the subsequent bitter debate over who "discovered" anesthesia, Jackson attempted to claim the achievement himself. He also claimed to have given Samuel Morse the idea for the telegraph and to have invented the explosive known as guncotton. Jackson had received his medical degree in 1829, taught at Harvard for a number of years and was also known for his achievements in geology and chemistry. By 1873, however, Jackson—who apparently suffered a stroke-- had been admitted to an insane asylum where he died in 1880. A recent biography that attempts to give Jackson his true place in anesthesia history is Charles Thomas Jackson “The Head Behind the Hands” by Richard J. Wolfe and Richard Patterson [History of Science, 2007].

1811 June 7: James Young Simpson was born in Bathgate, near Edinburgh, Scotland. In late 1847 Simpson and others discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform.
James Young Simpson

1835 June 2: Phineas Taylor Barnum's circus began its first tour of the United States. In 1841, Barnum opened his American Museum on Broadway in New York City. The museum featured five floors of changing exhibits and attractions and gained a reputation as the most visited place in America. For a brief period between November 1844 and March 1845, the museum offered exhibitions of laughing gas inhalation. One of his advertisements in the New York Tribune declared, "This most amusing exhibition will be given at each performance, and its ludicrous effects will be manifested in the most unique speeches, songs, gestures, etc." Why Barnum ended these demonstrations after a few months is not clear; however, they were one example of many in New York and other American cities throughout most of the nineteenth century. [See, for example, Wright AJ.  Gardner Quincy Colton’s 1848 visit to Mobile, Alabama.  In:  Barr AM, ed.  Proceedings of the History of Anaesthesia Society 25:31-47, 2000] The American Museum was destroyed by fire on July 13, 1865. Barnum, born on July 5, 1810, died on April 7, 1891.

1857 June 26: John G. Orton, a Binghamton, New York, physician, first used amylene successfully in the United States. Amylene was an anesthetic agent first used clinically in England by John Snow, who quickly abandoned its use after two of his patients died.

June 16, 1858: John Snow [born in 1813] died; he is considered the first professional anaesthetist in Great Britain. In 1847 he began to administer ether at St. George's Hospital in London and published a book on ether anesthesia. In 1853 and 1857 he administered chloroform to Queen Victoria for the births of Prince Leopold and Princess Beatrice, the last two of her nine children. These successful anesthesias were instrumental in promoting obstetrical pain relief in Great Britain. After that first anesthetic, the Queen confided in her diary entry for Friday, April 22: “Dr. Snow administered that blessed chloroform and the effect was soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure.” Snow is also an important figure in epidemiology; in 1854 he identified the source of a cholera epidemic in London as the contaminated public water pump in Broad Street. That achievement is explored in Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map: A Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World [2007]. A major biography of Snow, Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine by Peter Vinten-Johansen et al, was published by Oxford University Press in 2003.

John Snow [1813-1858]

1863 June: Gardner Quincy Colton revived use of nitrous oxide in Hartford, Connecticut, when he administers it for dentist J.H. Smith. The gas had not been used in that city since Horace Wells last used it for his dental patients in 1845. 

1878 June 16: Crawford Long [born in 1815] died. On March 30, 1842, Crawford Long made the first use of ether as a surgical anesthetic when he removed a tumor from the neck of patient James Venable. Long did not report this use of ether until after William Morton's demonstration of ether anesthesia for surgery in Boston in October, 1846
Crawford Long, M.D. on a 1940 U.S. postage stamp

1898 June: Bayer Company introduced heroin [first synthesized from morphine in 1874] for use as a non-addictive painkiller. The drug is later found to be more addictive than morphine and removed from market.

1909 June 7: Virginia Apgar was born in Westfield, New Jersey. In the late 1940s Apgar began developing the scoring system for newborn evaluation that bears her name; she presented the system at a meeting on September 21, 1952, and published it the following year. Dr. Apgar died in 1974. In October, 1994, a twenty-cent U.S. stamp honoring Virginia Apgar was released at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in Dallas, Texas. Selma Calmes, M.D., has written and lectured extensively on Dr. Apgar; one of her articles is “Virginia Apgar: a woman physician's career in a developing specialty.” J Am Med Womens Assoc. 1984 Nov-Dec; 39(6):184-8. A recent biography written for young people is Virginia Apgar: Innovative Female Physician and Inventor of the Apgar Score by Melanie Ann Apel [Rosen, 2004]. Continuing popular interest in Dr. Apgar is demonstrated by the article How's Your Baby? Recalling The Apgar Score's Namesake” by Melinda Beck was published in the May 26, 2009, issue of the Wall Street Journal.

Virginia Apgar, M.D.
[Source: ]

1910 June 13: Francis F. Foldes, MD, was born in Hungary. Dr. Foldes was an expert on muscle relaxants, local anesthetic agents, and myasthenia gravis who published almost 600 papers and co-authored four books. In 1962 he became the first Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, and served in that post until his retirement in 1975. Dr. Foldes died on May 19, 1997.
Francis F. Foldes, MD

[Source: Hungarian Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Therapy ]

1915 June 1: One of the great English-language poems of the twentieth-century, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," was first published in Poetry magazine. Author T.S. Eliot had actually completed the poem several years earlier. This portrait of modern spiritual and emotional paralysis opens with the lines "Let us go then, you and I,/When the evening is spread out against the sky/Like a patient etherized upon a table..." The month after its publication, Eliot married Vivien Haigh-Wood, who later became addicted to ether; she died in 1945. Their relationship is depicted in the 1994 film Tom and Viv. Born in St. Louis in 1888, Thomas Stearns Eliot moved to London in 1915, where he died in 1965.Among his other many famous works is the long poem The Waste Land and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the basis of the musical Cats.
T.S. Eliot in 1934

1926 June 3: Allen Ginsberg, one of the best-known poets of the twentieth century, was born in Newark, New Jersey. His most famous works are probably the long poems "Howl" and "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg," the latter written for his mother. Associated with "beat" writers such as William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg experimented with various consciousness-altering substances over the five decades of his writing career. "Kaddish" was written under the influence of various drugs, including nitrous oxide. Ginsberg also wrote a poem called "Laughing Gas" and refers to the effects of its inhalation in other poems such as "Five A.M." Ginsberg died in New York City on April 5, 1997.
Allen Ginsberg in 1985

1981 June 11: Sufentanil was first used in a human patient in the United States at University Hospital, University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham. Led by Paul Samuelson, MD, the anesthesia team also included Kathy Dole, CRNA; Dee Wright, RN; and Lindsay McFarland, RN. The patient underwent cardiopulmonary bypass. Also involved in the clinical study of sufentanil were Drs. J. G. Reves and Eva Buttner. Details can be found in the Anesthesiology UAB Newsletter 2(3): 2, summer 1981.