The Tutoring Center, Houston TX

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03/03/2014
 Until the mid-1800s, the likelihood of surviving any malady that required surgery was minimal. The surgeon was the local barber or a member of the family. Besides lack of knowledge and sanitation, there was, more importantly to the patient, no effective way to kill pain. Surgery was torture

For most of human history, a patient had the choice of alcohol (if available), opium (if lucky), or being strapped down (if possible or if endurable). For many centuries the main drugs for surgery, if available, were opiates. Cocaine was often used as a local anesthetic. 

Herbal preparations were known throughout history to produce some sleepy or pain killing effects, but as 16th century physician Fallopius observed: "When soporifics are weak, they are useless, and when strong, they kill." By the 1840s, that began to change. Scientists found ways to create a lack of awareness of pain that was reversible -- anesthesia -- a word suggested by poet and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

On March 30, 1842 -- 172 years ago this month -- an American surgeon in Georgia, Crawford Long, used diethy ether to remove a tumor from the neck of a patient. It is recognized as the first use of effective anesthesia for surgery. About the same time, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) came into use for dental procedures. 

The colorless, odorless gas made short procedures painless, which was a miracle in the day. But the gas was no good for long operations. Breathing in too much for too long causes permanent brain changes and death.


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