Today, we’re recognizing World Anesthesia Day, a celebration of one of the most integral breakthroughs of medical history: the first successful use of ether anesthesia.
On October 16, 1846, at Massachusetts General Hospital, William T. G. Morton administered ether on Edward Gilbert Abbott to assist with tumor removal. When Abbott awoke, he said that he did not feel the procedure, marking the first surgery without pain, an incredibly significant medical event.
Prior to modern anesthesia, operations were extremely painful for patients. Although doctors and nurses enlisted the help of herbal remedies and creative distractions, it was impossible to achieve any true level of comfort. For years, they sought ways to perform painless surgical procedures, highlighted in some of the earliest recorded medical notes.
The ability to finally perform comfortable procedures and keep the patient from enduring significant pain spearheaded many other advances and medical breakthroughs. Eventually, these advances allowed anesthesiology to become a specialty in the early 20th century.
Now, there are 550,134 anesthesiologists in the world, with 35,000 practicing in the United States. Approximately 40 million surgical procedures utilize an anesthetic each year, and anesthesiologists handle roughly 90 percent of those cases.
We’d like to recognize anesthesiologists for their significant contribution to medicine and the specialty for its lengthy timeline and incredible advancements. Today, we’ve compiled some fast facts to honor this timeline, highlighting a few of its most significant milestones.
- Ever wonder where the phrase “bite the bullet” came from? Prior to the use of anesthesia during the American Civil War, doctors provided a bullet to bite on to wounded soldiers undergoing often gruesome procedures so the patient could concentrate on the bullet instead of the pain.
- The Ether Dome at Mass General is a beautifully preserved piece of history. In the 1800s, over 8,000 operations occurred in this location, including the first painless surgery. Now, this teaching amphitheater is also a historical landmark, housing an oil painting of the famous surgery and displaying surgical tools.
- Founded in 1905, The American Society of Anesthesiologists pledges to progress American medicine and remain an advocate for continuing education and research in the anesthesiology field.
- In 1927, Dr. Ralph M. Waters taught one of the world’s first university-based residency training programs in anesthesiology.
- In 1940, the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) gained independent board status and helped define anesthesiology as a medical specialty, granting physicians formal recognition for their tremendous skill.
- The American Society of Anesthesiologists Charitable Foundation was founded in 2011 with a mission to improve access to quality anesthesia and improve health and medical care in under-served communities.