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Tackled the problem of pain in surgery
Natural drugs- alcohol, opium and
mandrake have been used for a long
time, but weren't that effective or
reliable. Many had dangerous side
In 1799 Humphry Davy thought nitrous oxide (laughing gas)
would be a good anaesthetic.
It took 40 years until it started being used in dentistry.
In 1846 John Warren did a public demonstration on the use of
ether. However ether was an irritant and explosive, so people
wanted to find an alternative.
James Simpson discovered the anesthetising effects of
chloroform in 1847. He was a professor of midwifery at
Edinburgh so quickly started to use it on women in labour.…read more

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Many objected to the use of chloroform. Some thought that
pain was natural and women going through pain in
childbirth built up their character. Others were worried
about side effects, as chloroform was a new and untested
drug. There was also always the danger of overdose.
Queen Victoria publicly praised `that blessed chloroform'
after the birth of her //// child in ///////// The critics were
silenced and it became standard use in surgery.
The Black Period of Surgery
Despite their pain relieving effects the use of anaesthetics
actually led to an increase in death rates in surgery.
It allowed surgeons to perform more complex operations,
carrying infections deeper into the patient and also
resulting in more blood loss. This was because the
solutions to infections and blood loss had not yet been
found.…read more

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Antiseptic and aseptic surgery.
Antiseptic is killing any germs near or in the wound.
Aseptic methods stop germs getting near wounds and often
involve creating a sterile environment.
In 1847 Ignaz Semmelweis found death rates
from infection were higher in women who
had been treated by medical students. The
medical students had not washed their hands
after dissecting dead bodies. He told them to use a chloride
of lime solution hand wash but he was branded a lunatic.
Joseph Lister had seen carbolic acid sprays used to prevent
smells in sewerage in the 1860s. He used it in surgery and
death rates fell.…read more

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Lister heard about the germ theory in 1865 and started to
clean his medical instruments and bandages as he realised
that germs could be in the air.
However, Lister faced criticism of his methods as the spray
was more unpleasant for the surgeon and also made
operations last longer. Lister seemed to be always
changing his methods, however this was only because he
was trying to find an alternative to the spray that was less
By 1890 most European and American surgeons used
In 1889 William Halstead invented surgical
gloves because one of the nurses he worked
with was allergic to carbolic spray. This
helped to provide an aseptic environment
however.…read more

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Blood Transfusions.
People had been trying to solve the problem of blood loss
as early as the 17th century. Sometimes it was successful
and other times the patient died. Nobody had any idea why
this happened.
In 1900 Karl Landsteiner discovered blood groups and that
for a blood transfusion to be successful the blood group
had to match.
In WW1 another advance was made- this time in the
storage of blood. It was found that sodium citrate could
prevent clotting. This meant donors didn't have to be on
the spot so there were less shortages of blood.
In WW2 it was considered patriotic for civilians to donate
blood, and in 1946 the British national blood transfusion
service was established.…read more

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