“Who but well remembers the excitement produced some twenty-five years ago by the discovery of anesthesia? The nitrous oxide gas, sulphuric and chloric ether, chloroform, “laughing gas”, besides various other combinations of these, were welcomed as so many heavenly blessings to the suffering portion of humanity. Poor Dr. Horace Wells, of Hartford, in 1844, was the discoverer, and Drs. Morton and Jackson reaped the honors and benefits in 1846, as is usual in such cases.
The anaesthetics were proclaimed “the greatest discovery ever made.” And, though the famous Letheon of Morton and Jackson (a compound of sulphuric ether), the chloroform of Sir James Y. Simpson, and the nitrous oxide gas, introduced by Colton, in 1843, and by Dunham and Smith, were occasionally checked by fatal cases, it still did not prevent these gentlemen from being considered public benefactors.
The patients successfully put to sleep sometimes awoke no more; what matters that, so long as others were relieved? Physicians assure us that accidents are now but rarely apprehended. Perhaps it is because the beneficent anaesthetic agents are so parsimoniously applied as to fail in their effects one-half of the time, leaving the sufferer paralyzed for a few seconds in his external movements, but feeling the pain as acutely as ever.
On the whole, however, chloroform and laughing gas are beneficent discoveries. But, are they the first anesthetics ever discovered, strictly speaking? Dioscorides speaks of the stone of Memphis (lapis Memphiticus), and describes it as a small pebble – round, polished, and very sparkling. When ground into powder, and applied as an ointment to that part of the body on which the surgeon was about to operate, either with his scalpel or fire, it preserved that part, and only that part from any pain of the operation.
In the meantime, it was perfectly harmless to the constitution of the patient, who retained his consciousness throughout, in no way dangerous from its effects, and acted so long as it was kept on the affected part. When taken in a mixture of wine or water, all feeling of suffering was perfectly deadened. Pliny gives also a full description of it.”
H. P. Blavatsky