Major Improvements in Surgery (19th-20th Centuries)

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Prior to the work of pioneering individuals; blood loss, pain and infection were each problems which limited surgery to a great extent, and hence their management came to be of such significance to this day. 


  • In the eighteenth century, scientist Humphrey Davy was to discover the use of nitrous oxide ('laughing gas') as an anaesthetic in research regarding gases. It was to be first medically used four decades later.
  • In 1846, John Warren demonstrated the successful use of ether - in Boston, Masachussetts. However, there were many unfavourable aspects to the anaesthetic - such as in that it was unpleasant and an irritant to the lungs of the patient.
  • The effectiveness of chloroform as an anaesthetic was a discovery of James Simpson - a Scottish doctor - in 1847.
  • There was some original opposition to their use. The nineteenth century was a period within which the majority of Britons held strong Christian beliefs - which left some conservative in their medical ideas. They thought that pain was purposefully sent by God, and so it was wrong to interfere with it; particularly that suffered during childbirth. There were also initial concerns regarding dosage - as a lack of knowledge regarding the correct doses for particular individuals led to many accidental overdoses. Some even argued that their use made no real beneficial impact towards the outcome of the procedure. Still, most opposition began to dissever as Queen Victoria chose to give birth to her son, Prince Leopold, under chloroform in 1853. 
  • Directly following the widespread implementation of anaesthetics in surgery, death rates actually increased. This was because surgeons began to attempt longer, more complex internal procedures without regard of the sanitation of their surroundings. Prior to germ theory's 1861 publication, no real need to sterilise instruments and the operating theatre, or wash hands, was commonly seen - and hence infection


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