Have you ever given thought to anesthesiology outside of the boundaries of your medical education or career? Have you ever stopped to ponder the critical role anesthesiology plays in modern surgery? If not, you should. It is quite sobering to think of what surgery might be like had anesthesiology never been invented. We can get a glimpse by looking back on history.
To the anesthesiologist looking for a job, thoughts of what surgery used to be like are fleeting. Likewise for the student preparing for a future in anesthesiology. The past is even lost on patients who take for granted the fact that their anesthesiologists will take care of them in the operating room. Nonetheless, the history is there for anyone who wants to discover it.
Surgery Without Anesthesia
Medical practitioners have been using naturally derived pain medications for thousands of years. Those medications have varied in their effectiveness. Unfortunately, the world knew no such thing as general anesthesia until the middle of the 19th century. The first successful surgery under general anesthesia didn’t take place until 1842.
How was surgery handled before then? First and foremost, it was an option of last resort. As for the procedures themselves, they were nothing like they are today. Surgical centers were often contained in separate buildings so that hospital patients would not hear the agonizing screams of those in surgery. Extra men would be brought in to the surgical room to hold patients still.
An unintended result of anesthesia-free surgery was the tendency among doctors to rush through procedures. And because they rushed, the quality of their work was questionable. It’s no wonder that surgeries were avoided whenever possible.
Surgery in the Modern Era
With the knowledge of what surgery was like before general anesthesia, it’s easy to understand the critical role anesthesia know plays in the modern era. Because we have access to general anesthesia, both surgical procedures and their outcomes have been drastically improved.
Let’s start with something like open heart surgery. Can you imagine conducting such a surgery in the 1700s? Even if we had a thorough understanding of heart function back then, that sort of surgery would have been unthinkable without general anesthesia. How many patients died of heart conditions that could have been addressed with surgery?
Let’s move on to something more routine, like appendectomies. Anesthesiologists and surgeons alike know that once an appendectomy is necessary, it is a life-saving procedure. A burst appendix can be deadly. Put yourself in the position of someone suffering appendicitis before general anesthesia was available.
Your appendix would have to come out if you were to live. Already in enough pain, you would be facing the excruciating pain of surgery too. And if the doctor rushed to get the procedure done quickly, he might have jeopardized your life by messing something up.
We Are Truly Blessed
A look at the history of anesthesiology demonstrates just how truly blessed we are. Modern medicine has given us so many technologies that were previously unavailable, technologies that are saving lives and improving human health. The development of general anesthesiology during the mid-19th century is but one example we tend to take for granted.
If you are already involved in anesthesiology, know that what you do is truly appreciated by those who understand what surgery would be without you. And if you’re pursuing a future career in anesthesiology, make a point to do a little research on the past. The career you are pursuing is a noble one that has changed the course of surgery ever since its inception.