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This Month in Anesthesia History: November

1793 November 28: Antoine Lavoisier surrendered to the French revolutionary government. He was imprisoned and executed by guillotine on May 8, 1794. Known as the “father of modern chemistry,” he named oxygen and hydrogen among many other achievements.

1815 November 1::Crawford W. Long was born in Danielsville, Georgia. On the afternoon of March 30, 1842, in Jefferson, Georgia, Dr. Long removed a small tumor from the neck of James Venable while the patient remained calm after breathing ether vapor. Thus Long performed the first surgical operation under ether anesthesia. Long continued to use ether in several other operations, but failed to report his achievement until after William Morton's public demonstration of ether anesthesia in October, 1846.

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Crawford W. Long, M.D.

1821 November 9: French writer Charles Baudelaire was born in Paris . Although probably best known for his poetry collection LesFleurs du mal  [Flowers of Evil, first edition 1857], Baudelaire was also a literary and art critic and beginning in 1848 translated many works of Poe into French. His own dark poetry, often fueled by sessions of hashish smoking, was very controversial during his lifetime. In his essay "Poem of Hashish" [1895], he made some interesting observations about anesthesia: "Despite the admirable services which ether and chloroform have rendered to humanity, it seems to me that from the point of view of the idealist philosophy the same moral stigma is branded on all modern inventions which tend to diminish human free will and necessary pain. It was not without a certain admiration that I once listened to the paradox of an officer who told me of the cruel operation undergone by a French general at El-Aghouat, and of which, despite chloroform, he died. This general was a very brave man, and even something more: one of those souls to which one naturally applies the term chivalrous. It was not, he said to me, chloroform that he needed, but the eyes of all the army and the music of its bands. That might have saved him. The surgeon did not agree with the officer, but the chaplain would doubtless have admired these sentiments." Baudelaire died in Paris from the ravages of syphilis on August 31, 1867, at age 46.

 

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Charles Baudelaire ca. 1863

1832 November 26: American author Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, now a part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is perhaps best known for her novels Little Women and its sequel, Little Men [1871]. However, she also published several successful thrillers under the pseudonym A.B. Barnard. Alcott worked as a nurse for six weeks at a Union hospital in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, and her first significant work, Hospital Sketches [1863] resulted from that experience. This book includes descriptions of the brutal treatment of the wounded soldiers of that time; Alcott observes that "the merciful magic of ether" was not always used in surgery. After contracting typhoid pneumonia during this period, Alcott was treated with large doses of calomel, a compound containing mercury. For the rest of her life, until her death on March 6, 1888, the long-term side effects led her to self-medicate with opium and morphine. Opium addiction is explored in some of her later writings, such as The Marble Woman; or, The Mysterious Model.

 

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Louisa May Alcott about age 25

1846 November 7: Surgeon George Hayward performed a leg amputation and a lower jaw removal under ether anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  These surgeries were the third and fourth at which Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton served as anesthetist.

1846 November 9: Henry J. Bigelow, junior surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital, reported on Morton's four successful ether anesthetics at a meeting of the Boston Society for Medical Improvements.

1846 November 12: Letter patent no. 4848 was issued to Charles T. Jackson and William T.G. Morton for 10% of all profits on the use of ether in surgical operations. Because of vociferous opposition from the medical and dental communities to such a patent, Jackson and Morton quickly made their discovery known and freely available.

1846 November 12: The first surgery in private practice under ether anesthesia in Boston took place on this date. J. Mason Warren, son of John Collins Warren, was the surgeon.

1846 November 18: Bigelow's account of Morton’s October administrations at Massachusetts General Hospital was published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, launching the spread of ether anesthesia around the world.

1846 November 21: In a letter to William T.G. Morton, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., suggested the word "anaesthesia" to describe the mental state produced by the inhalation of ether vapor.

 

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

1847 November 8: In Edinburgh, Scotland, James Young Simpson introduced chloroform into clinical practice. The patient was Wilhelmina Carstairs, daughter of a physician.

1856 November 10: At London's King's College Hospital, John Snow made the first clinical administration of amylene, a gas he had extensively investigated in animals. By July, 1857, Snow abandoned use of the gas after two of his patients died. In the summer of 1857 a New York physician, John G. Orton, published two accounts in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of his use of amylene in a toenail extraction and an obstetric case. Dr. Orton noted that he had obtained the amylene from John Snow. There is a fascinating footnote to the amylene story. In a March 2, 1857, letter, the Paris correspondent of the New York Times reported excitedly on an operation with amylene "for necrosis of the tibia" that he had witnessed. The reporter noted of the patient, "She did not go to sleep, and yet she felt no pain; her eyes remained open during the whole operation, which lasted nearly an hour...." A purified form of amylene, pental (trimethyl ethylene), gained some popularity in Germany and the United Kingdom until the end of the century.

1868 November: Dr. Edmund Andrews published in the Chicago Medical Examiner a paper proposing administration of nitrous oxide with oxygen in a premixed combination of 80 to 20 percent.

1879 November 4: American humorist and author Will Rogers was born 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, on August 15, 1935.

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Will Rogers

1883 November 13: James Marion Sims, a surgeon famous for his vesicovaginal operation, died. After Morton's October, 1846, public demonstration of ether anesthesia in Boston, Sims urged Georgia physician Crawford Long to publish an account of operations using ether that Long had performed in 1842. Long's account finally appeared in the December 1849, issue of the Southern Medical and Surgical Journal. Sims was born on January 21, 1813, in South Carolina and received his M.D. from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1835. For some years he practiced in Montgomery, Alabama, but in 1853 moved to New York where two years later he opened the world's first hospital for women. He served a term as President of the American Medical Association in 1876-77.

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James Marion Sims, M.D.

1884 November 15: Vassily von Anrep published the first extensive account of clinical use of cocaine in a Russian journal.

1894 November 30: Ernst Amory Codman [1869-1940] and Harvey Cushing introduced the anesthetic record on or before this date.

1905 November 5: Actor Joel McCrea was born. In addition to numerous other roles, McCrea starred as William T.G. Morton in The Great Moment [1944], a film biography directed by Preston Sturges.

2001 November 9: The second annual National Anaesthesia Day is held in Great Britain under the auspices of the Royal College of Anaesthetists. The first celebration was held May 25, 2000.

2005 November 5: British novelist John Fowles died at the age of 79. Well-known for such later novels as The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles achieved critical and commercial success early with his first novel, The Collector [1963]. That novel tells the story of Frederick Clegg, a meek clerk and butterfly collector who decides to elevate his collecting and kidnaps beautiful art student Miranda Grey as she is walking home from class. Clegg uses a rag soaked in chloroform to subdue her. A film version of the novel appeared in 1965 and featured Terence Stamp as Clegg and Samantha Eggar as Grey. Both novel and film have extended scenes of the criminal use of chloroform. Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England, on March 31, 1926. [For more information on such real-life uses of chloroform, see Payne JP. The criminal use of chloroform. Anaesthesia. 1998 Jul;53(7):685-90]