(BEING CONTINUED FROM 28/07/17)
Anesthesia/Anaesthesia Word History
From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, we get a statement about Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician-poet and the father of the Supreme Court justice of the same name, who wrote on November 21, 1846:
“Everybody wants to have a hand in a great discovery. All I will do is to give you a hint or two as to names—or the name—to be applied to the state produced and the agent. The state should, I think, be called ‘Anaesthesia’ (from the Greek word anaisthesia, ‘lack of sensation’). This signifies insensibility…. The adjective will be ‘Anaesthetic’. Thus we might say the state of Anaesthesia, or the Anaesthetic state.”
Another citation is taken from a letter to William Thomas Green Morton, who in October of that year had successfully demonstrated the use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Although anaesthesiais recorded in Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary in 1721, it is clear that Holmes really was responsible for its entry into the language. The Oxford English Dictionary has several citations for anaesthesia(anesthesia) and anaesthetic (anesthetic) in 1847 and 1848, indicating that the words gained rapid acceptance.
The Mandragora Plant–One of the First Known Anesthetics
Because of the fear of death or insanity from pulling mandragora from the ground, the root was merely loosened by the collector and he/she attached a cord to the collar of his/her dog. With the dog’s struggle to get away, the root was freed from the earth. An old document declares, “Therefore, they did tye some dogge or other living beast unto the roots thereof with a corde … and in the mean tyme stopped there own ears for fear of the terrible shriek and cry of the mandrake. In which cry it doth not only dye itselfe but the feare thereof killeth the dogge ….”
Mandragora was the most popular anesthetic during the Middle Ages and in the Elizabethan Age it was still being used as a narcotic.
Medieval physicians analyzed symptoms, examined excreta, and made their diagnoses. Then they would prescribe diet, rest, sleep, exercise, or baths. They could also administer emetics and purgatives or bleed the patient. Surgeons could treat fractures and dislocations, repair hernias, and perform amputations and a few other operations. Some of them prescribed opium, mandragora, or alcohol to deaden pain. Childbirth was left to midwives, who relied on folklore and tradition.
The mandrake has long been known for its poisonous properties. In ancient times it was used as a narcotic and an aphrodisiac, and it was also believed to have certain magical powers. Its forked root, seemingly resembling the human form, was thought to be powered by dark earth spirits. It was believed that the mandrake could be safely uprooted only in the moonlight, after appropriate prayer and ritual, by a black dog attached to the plant by a cord. Human hands were not to come in contact with the plant. In medieval times, people commonly believed that as the mandrake was pulled from the ground it uttered a shriek that killed or drove mad those who did not block their ears against it. After the plant had been freed from the earth, it could be used for “beneficent” purposes, such as healing, inducing love, facilitating pregnancy, and providing soothing sleep.
Mandragora, or mandrake root, was recorded as early as Dioscorides (A.D. 40-90), a Greek physician and pharmacologist whose work was the foremost classical source of modern botanical terminology and the leading pharmacological text for sixteen centuries. Dioscorides’ travels as a surgeon with the armies of the Roman emperor Nero provided him an opportunity to study the features, distribution, and medicinal properties of many plants and minerals. Excellent descriptions of nearly 600 plants, including cannabis, colchicum, water hemlock, and peppermint, are contained in his De materia medica. Written in five books around the year 77, this work deals with approximately 1,000 simple drugs.
The medicinal and dietetic value of animal derivatives such as milk and honey is described in the second book, and a synopsis of such chemical drugs as mercury (with directions for its preparation from cinnabar), arsenic (referred to as auripigmentum, the yellow arsenic sulfide), lead acetate, calcium hydrate, and copper oxide is found in the fifth book. He clearly refers to sleeping potions prepared from opium and mandragora as surgical anesthetics “to such (people) as shall be cut, or cauteried …. For they do not apprehend the pain because they are overborn (overcome) with dead sleep …. But used too much they make men speechless.”
Although the work may be considered little more than a drug collector’s manual by modern standards, the original Greek manuscript, which was copied in at least seven other languages, describes most drugs used in medical practice until modern times and served as the primary text of pharmacology until the end of the 15th century.
Based on information from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1995.
The Mandragora Plant—A Synopsis of Conquering Pain with Anesthetics
The Beginning of Modern Anesthetics
Another version, in Kenneth Walker’s The Story of Medicine, “The first man to employ nitrous oxide for anaesthetic purposes was Dr. Riggs ….” Based on his personal experiences (having one of his own teeth pulled by Dr. Riggs) with nitrous oxide as an anaesthesia, Dr. Horace Wells gave several demonstrations to his colleagues and in a comparatively short time the great value of the gas was established. The problem with nitrous oxide is that its effect didn’t last very long and so it was not suitable for long medical operations.
Dr. William Morton (1819-68), a Boston dentist and former partner of Dr. Horace Wells was one of the first to use ether as an anesthesia. In 1846, just two years after Horace Wells’ anesthetic success with nitrous oxide, Dr. Morton constructed the first anesthetic machine. Morton’s simple device was a glass globe housing an ether-soaked sponge so all the patient had to do was merely to inhale the vapor through one of two outlets. Morton’s invention was put to the test on October 16, 1846, in the surgical amphitheater of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, when a twenty-year-old man was successfully anesthetized so a tumor could be painlessly removed from what one source said was his neck or jaw.
The history of the two anesthetics, nitrous oxide and ether, was the same in that the anesthetic properties of the two had originally been discovered in England but no further use was made of them. Dr. James Simpson (1811-70), “a well-known Edinburgh (Scotland) gynecologist,” was first to use ether in his obstetric practice. Simpson considered ether to be too unstable for his gynecological work so he looked for other anesthetic properties. After much experimentation, Simpson decided to use chloroform as a better anesthetic than either nitrous oxide or ether. He was the first man to use chloroform to relieve the pain of childbirth because he was dissatisfied with ether, not only because it irritated the eyes, and was highly inflammable, but also because there was no assurance that its use was safe. Many in Scotland protested that the use of chloroform in child labor was contrary to biblical teaching, for didn’t God say to Eve, “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”?
Simpson first administered chloroform in 1847 by simply sprinkling it on a handkerchief and placing it over the patient’s mouth and nose so that she could inhale the vapors. One mother was so delighted by the painless delivery that she named her child Anaesthesia. In 1853, Queen Victoria was given chloroform during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold. The announcement of this in the press was received with amazement, grief, and criticism. Yet the “good Queen” participated in this form of anaesthesia and what the good Queen did was generally accepted. After Queen Victoria allowed the use of chloroform during her next child’s birth, it became known in Great Britain as “anaesthesia a la Reine”. The use of chloroform in childbirth became fashionable and what was fashionable soon became moral and acceptable. Chloroform is more potent and more toxic than ether. Its use as an anesthetic dropped significantly with increased experience and knowledge of its dangers.
Anesthesia from Primitive and Ancient Sources
Throughout America there are thousands of doctors–working in hospitals, clinics and private offices—who hurt and even fatally injure patients through incompetence or carelessness yet remain in active practice. In Denver, Richard Corbett Leonard, 8, died during a routine ear operation because the anesthesiologist allegedly fell asleep.
(TO BE CONTINUED)