Surgery Before Anesthetic

Could you imagine surgery before anesthetic? Anesthetic was one of just a few great breakthroughs in the surgical world. Though doctors had access to painkillers to make their patients’ procedures bearable, patients could feel everything happening.

Accounts of surgery date back to ancient Greece, where many vases depict what archaeologists have described as “battlefield surgery” in which fellow soldiers treated other’sthers wounds—sometimes using their own weapons.

“The science of futility.”

As time went on, scholars and scientists turned surgery into more of a profession and skill. By studying dead bodies furnished by any means possible, they studied anatomy and how the human body works. While their “science” can seem questionable at times, some basic surgeries were possible.

As the Age of Enlightenment dawned in Europe, study of the human body expanded, but surgery remained largely dangerous, with many doctors describing it as “the science of futility.”

1800's Crossed Eye Correction Surgery

Surgery to correct crossed eyes.

Ancient Surgical Instruments for Skull Procedures

Tools and instruments for boring holes into the skull.

toe amputation

Toe amputations.

Cesarian section.

Child delivery via Cesarian section.

jaw removal surgery

Jaw removal

The Advent of Anesthesia

In 1846, William Morton carried out the first successful surgical procedure using anesthesia. He used ether in the operation at Massachusetts General Hospital, a place that would come to be known as “the Ether Dome.”

surgery using ether

A tumor was safely removed from Edward Gilbert Abbot’s neck, and Morton’s technique spread like wildfire. Within just a few years, surgeons all across the world were using ether in everything from tooth removal to amputation.

Not Enough

Despite the help anesthesia provides in numbing physical sensation during invasive medical procedures, it does not affect infection rates. Unclean hospitals and contamination made treatment nearly as dangerous as injury and disease. During World War II for example, some reports accounted the majority of deaths to the medical treatment they received. Septic and gangrene killed.

It wasn’t until Alexander Fleming developed antibiotics like penicillin, that hospitals had all the tools they needed for modern surgery.