March 30 was National Doctors' Day and I had thought I had posted this blog --- apologies for the delay. I was reminded by Dr. Mary Ann Donohue, Chief of Patient Care Services, that it is the anniversary of the use of general anesthesia for the first time in the Ether Dome of the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1842. As an anesthesiologist I take pride in this part of medical history.
Dr. William Morton's technique revolutionized medicine. The term anesthesia was suggested by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., in a letter to Dr. Morton in 1846: "Everybody wants to have a hand in a great discovery. All I will do is give you a hint or two as to names --- or the name --- to be applied to the state produced by 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 of the state of Anaesthesia, or the Anaesthetic state."
Another aspect of this important advance is that it heralded the importance of collaborative teamwork in healthcare. For the first time, the care of the patient required several distinct individuals working together. The surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse had to combine their special skills and coordinate their timing in order to provide an effective, safe clinical outcome. Thus was born the first team in medicine. Like the "Anaesthetic," teamwork is painless when it is properly done and produces the best result.
Happy Doctors' Day, and thank you to our colleagues who make it possible for us to practice the art and science of medicine. And a special thanks to our nursing partners!!
CORRECTION: a colleague of ours, Dr. Ramon Abola, has researched this item and has politely advised that while Doctor's Day is associated with the advent of anesthesia, it is with the first use by Dr. Crawford Long in Georgia in 1842, not in the Ether Dome of the Massachusetts General Hospital, which was in 1846. When I was advised that it was associated with the first use I asssumed it to be the latter, which is heralded as its formal acceptance by medicine. Although Dr. Long performed this procedure on at least two occasions prior to the MGH demonstration, the publication of his work was not until 1849 in The Southern Medical and Surgical Journal. Dr. Holmes' note was written to Dr. Morton in 1846 in reference to the Ether Dome administration. Appropriate recognition is due to Dr. Long, and reassertion that the development of the operating room team around the advent of anesthesia remains an excellent example of the evolution of specialized teams to care for patients.