men stake their claim
It has the makings of a great movie
powerful characters, an enticing plot and a strange twist
of events only this drama unfolds, in part, right here at
the MGH. It involves the controversy surrounding four men who each
claim to be the first to discover the means to prevent pain during
Possibly the first to conceive of using
ether to alleviate the pain of surgery was Crawford W. Long, MD,
of Georgia. It was not until others took credit for the finding
that he claimed to have used it as early as 1841 for minor operations.
In January 1845, after using nitrous oxide successfully during tooth
extractions, Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist, was permitted
to demonstrate his technique to a group of Harvard Medical School
students at the MGH. Perhaps because Wells had administered an insufficient
dose, the patient cried out in pain. The crowd laughed, yelled humbug
and drove Wells out of Boston. In 1864, the American Dental Association
and the American Medical Association credited Wells with the discovery.
Two years later Boston dentist William
T.G. Morton, a colleague of Wells, administered ether to Gilbert
Abbott at the MGH, marking the first successful public demonstration
of the technique. Morton called his drug letheon but
later was forced to reveal that it was simply ether.
Finally, Charles Jackson, MD, a Boston
physician and chemist who had advised Morton to use ether, claimed
to have a large part in the discovery and pressed his claims for
credit all the way to Congress, which upheld Morton as the true
Jackson had a history of making such
claims he also claimed that Samuel Morse stole his idea for
inventing the telegraph. With the battle still raging, each man
fell infamously to his grave, never receiving full recognition for
the discovery. Though no one person can take credit for the achievement.
So widely appreciated was the achievement
of painless surgery that in 1868 a Bostonian named Thomas Lee had
a monument erected in the Public Garden to commemorate the
discovery that the inhaling of ether causes insensibility to pain.
First proved at the Mass. General Hospital in Boston. The
granite and red marble memorial remains the parks only monument
to an event rather than an individual. At the time, its commissioning
was somewhat controversial some deemed it inappropriate to
celebrate mans attempt to circumvent Gods law by eliminating
pain. Below is the sculpture depicting the biblical parable of the
Good Samaritan that sits atop the ether memorial.