MassMoments: Ether Day October 16, 1846

For anyone  facing surgery, the possibility of pain looms large. Imagine back to a time when options for “anesthesia” were limited to alcohol or the danger of opium. When a Boston dentist demonstrated the “power of ether” back in 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Jospeh Warren – a well-respected surgeon – announced to a stunned audience in the operating theater – “Gentlemen, this is no humbug.” It was revolutionary.

On this day October 16…

  …in 1846, a crowd gathered in the operating theater at Massachusetts General Hospital. A Boston printer with a tumor on his jaw lay on the table. Curious and skeptical physicians and medical students waited impatiently. Finally, Boston dentist William Morton entered the room carrying a glass inhaler with an ether-soaked sponge. He used this apparatus to render the patient unconscious. A surgeon then removed the tumor. After the patient recovered consciousness, he reported that he had experienced no pain but only a sensation like that of being scraped with a blunt instrument. The historic moment was proclaimed “Ether Day,” and hailed around the world as “the greatest gift ever known to mankind.” One London newspaper declared “WE HAVE CONQUERED PAIN.”

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