New Zealand Society of Anaesthetists (NZSA) – Level 1, Central House, 26 Brandon Street, Wellington 6011
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History of anaesthesia

Horace-WellsAnaesthesia today is the culmination of many earlier discoveries and events. Surgical procedures are not a recent development, with operations being carried out over thousands of years. The skeletal remains of our earliest ancestors – the European Neolithic man – display evidence of possible surgery with surgical burr holes in the head. It is likely that such an event was to let out evil spirits.

By the times of the Greeks and Romans, surgical procedures, albeit fairly minor, were taking place. In ancient India surgery was well advanced with the development of many surgical instruments and even plastic surgical procedures have been described. (The surgical reconstruction of an amputated nose by the use a rotational flap has been described.)

Around 900-1000 AD the Arabs in Andalusia were performing abdominal surgery. Islamic surgeons and physicians had described many operations and medical procedures including bladder stones and caesarean section. The Islamic practice of medicine was a thousand years ahead of western medicine and much of what was claimed as new was a rediscovery of ancient techniques lost to the West.

A list of important dates

500

 

BC Opium analgesia described by Hippocrates

1544

 

Ether synthesised

1596

 

South American arrow poison described

1628

 

Harvey describes the circulation

1665

 

First IV injection of opium into a dog

1776

 

Mesmer describes hypnosis

1772

 

N2O discovered

1796

 

Moore compresses nerves to produce local anaesthesia

1829

 

Cloquet uses hypnosis for mastectomy

1847

 

First veterinary treatment using anaesthesia. Veterinary College London

1848

 

First anaesthetic death. Hannah Greener aged 15 died after chloroform administration (she had had a toenail removed)

1853

 

Invention of the hypodermic syringe and needle

1860

 

Cocaine isolated

1863

 

Popularisation of the use of N20

1867

 

Prof Lister introduces antiseptic surgery

1884

 

Demonstration of the local anaesthetic properties of cocaine on the cornea

1894

 

Harvey Cushing advocated the use of anaesthetic record charts

1898

 

August Bier introduced “spinal anaesthesia”

1917

 

Boyle’s anaesthetic machine, a N2O and O2 machine, first described

1920

 

Magill and Rowbotham developed endotracheal anaesthesia

1929

 

Fleming discovers that the mould Penicillium notatum inhibits bacteria

1930

 

The circle absorption system introduced by Brian Sword

1932

 

Association of anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland formed

1934

 

Thiopentone popularised
Australian society of anaesthetists formed

1939-42

 

An ear oxygen meter developed and term oximeter coined

1940

 

Preparation of an active and concentrated form of penicillin described

1945

 

The American Society of Anaesthetists (ASA) formed

1942

 

Muscle relaxants introduced.

1951

 

Halothane synthesised

1952

 

Faculty of RACS formed
Pin index system introduced

1973

 

Prototype pulse oximeter used clinically

1983

 

LMA use described

1984

 

Propofol in soya bean oil introduced

1987

 

First clinical use of desflurane