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Book and Media Reviews
December 5, 2007

Anaesthesia and the Practice of Medicine: Historical Perspectives

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2007;298(21):2546-2552. doi:10.1001/jama.298.21.2551

A man, screaming in agony, is held down on an operating table by 5 others while the surgeon amputates his left leg above the knee. The cover of Sykes and Bunker's book reproduces a late 18th-century painting depicting preanesthetic surgery, as iconic for that era as the modern, high-tech aseptic operating theater staffed with specialized professionals is for today. Between the two is a sharp break—the introduction of inhalation anesthesia in 1846. For all its problems, a soporific gas had the potential to end the suffering represented in the painting. And it did, soon silencing the gainsayers who regarded pain as essential to healing or childbirth and leaving a trail of priority disputes in its wake.

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