An Ether Celebration

On March 30, 1842, rural physician and surgeon Dr. Crawford Williamson Long used sulphuric ether during surgery. Dr. Long soaked a towel in ether to render his patient unconscious, then removed a tumour from the patient’s neck. When the patient recovered from the anaesthetic, he had not felt any pain from the procedure.

After graduation and apprenticeship in medicine, Long had trained for surgery in the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical Department. Serving his internship in New York City and back home in Georgia, he was introduced to the effects of both ether and of nitrous oxide or laughing gas. Although this introduction was more along the lines of frat party fun and group escapade, Long had experienced both the unconscious state that the drugs produced and had observed their effects on others.

Long was cautious in his use of anaesthesia but deeply motivated to relieve his patients from the terrible pain and suffering they had to experience during any surgery. He employed the use of ether in other surgeries, dental extractions, and some obstetric work, each time ensuring the presence of other observers. Dr. Long was hesitant about writing up his procedure, the dosages used, the effects, and recovery times and reactions. He first had to prove to himself beyond doubt that the beneficial, anaesthetic effect was actually induced from inhalation and not some self-induced state or mesmerism, a technique of self-hypnosis currently used in pain prevention during operations and actually taught in some medical institutes. As a rural doctor, he had fewer opportunities to test the validity of anaesthetic ether as he might have had in a denser population. Once he was sure of both the reliable effect of the ether and his application of it during surgeries, he published his documented work for colleagues.

He is recognized as the first to use anaesthetic in practical application during surgery. His name is memorialized in Long County, Georgia; Crawford Williamson Long Middle School, Atlanta; and, for almost 80 years, the Crawford Long Hospital, present day Emory University Hospital Midtown, Atlanta. His likeness appears in statuary, paintings, and a U.S. postal stamp. The Crawford W. Long Museum, Jefferson, recreates the 1840’s doctor’s office and apothecary, complete with personal and medical artifacts. In the U.S., National Doctors Day is celebrated on this day that marks Dr. Long’s first surgical application of anaesthetic.

Dr. Crawford Long makes his stamp on surgical anaesthesia.

Dr. Crawford Long makes his stamp on surgical anaesthesia.


B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage

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