One hundred fifty years ago, in the operating theater on the top floor of the MGH’s Bulfinch Building, one of the greatest moments in medicine occurred. On Oct. 16, 1846, William T.G. Morton, a Boston dentist, demonstrated the use of ether during surgery, ending the indescribable pain — and the overwhelming dread — that had been associated with the surgeon’s knife.
Using a specially designed glass inhaler containing an ether-soaked sponge, Morton administered the anesthetic to Gilbert Abbott, a printer who had come to the MGH for treatment of a vascular tumor on his jaw. After several minutes, Abbott was rendered unconscious. John Collins Warren, MD, one of the most widely recognized surgeons of that time, then surgically removed the tumor. Upon wakening, Abbott informed the curious and skeptical physicians and medical students in the theater that he had experienced no pain.
This site, produced by the Massachusetts General Hospital, examines the history of the first anesthesia, ether. Discovered as an aid to sedate patients in the middle of the nineteenth century, its use was heralded as a breakthrough which would lead to a new, better age of surgery. The 7 short essays on this site, written for a general audience, discuss the discovery of ether, the doctors involved, its use at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the subsequent history and future of anesthesiology. A few photographs and drawings of related materials are included.