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Ether by John C. Warren, MD

From writings by John Collins Warren, MD, describing the operation that he performed in 1846 on Gilbert Abbott, marking the first successful demonstration of ether at the Massachusetts Genral Hospital.

This case is remarkable in the annals of surgery. It was the first surgical operation performed under the influence of ether. Dr. Warren had been applied to by Mr. Morton, a dentist, with the request that he would try the inhalation of a fluid which, he said, he had found to be effectual in preventing pain during operations on the table. Dr. Warren, having satisfied himself that the breathing of the fluid would be harmless, agreed to employ it when an opportunity presented. Now occurring in private practice within a day or two, he determined to use it on this patient.

Before the operation began some time was lost in waiting for Mr. Morton, and ultimately it was thought he would not appear. At length he arrived and explained his detention by informing Dr. Warren that he had been occupied in preparing his apparatus, which consisted of a tube connected with a glass globe. This apparatus
To the surprise of Dr. Warren and the other gentlemaen present the patient did not shrink nor cry out.
he then proceeded to apply, and after four or five minutes the patient appeared to be asleep, and the operation was performed, as herein described. To the surprise of Dr. Warren and the other gentlemen present, the patient did not shrink nor cry out, but during the insulation of the veins he began to move his limbs and utter extraordinary expressions, and these movements seemed to indicate the existence of pain; but after he had recovered his faculties, he said he had experienced none, but only a sensation like that of scraping the part with a blunt instrument, and he ever after continued to say he had not felt any pain.

The results of this operation led to the repetition of the use of ether in other cases and in a few days its success was established, and its use resorted to in every considerable operation in the city of Boston and its vicinity.

Background: a daguerreotype of an 1847 operation in which ether was administered and the surgical notes of 1846 describe the case of Gilbert Abbott upon his admission to the MGH, several weeks before undergoing the historic procedure. Right: a replica of Morton’s inhaler.

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