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February 21, 1996

Romance, Poetry, and Surgical Sleep: Literature Influences Medicine

Author Affiliations

Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation Pittsburgh, Pa

JAMA. 1996;275(7):567. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530310073040

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This work reminds us of medicine's many roots in literature, anesthesia included. The primary question addressed by the author, simply stated, is: the discovery of anesthesia—what took so long!?

If sentient humankind is decent and compassionate, if surgery prior to anesthesia was an unendurable torture, why weren't means of allaying such suffering sought long before the 1840s? (In 1841, Crawford Long first used ether as an anesthetic but failed to report the event. On October 16,1846, William Morton gave the first public demonstration of ether anesthesia.) Dr Emanuel Papper proposes an answer early in Romance, Poetry, and Surgical Sleep: "It took so long to discover 'anesthesia' because there was no societal readiness for it nor interest in the prevention of the pain of surgical intervention or really in the relief of pain for the common man until the idea that humankind had a right 'to pursue happiness'." He further proposes