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November 12, 2008

Not So Great Moments: The “Discovery” of Ether Anesthesia and Its “Re-Discovery” by Hollywood

JAMA. 2008;300(18):2188-2190. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.526

One of the truly great moments in medical history occurred on a tense fall morning in the surgical amphitheater of Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital. It was there, on October 16, 1846, that a dentist named William T. G. Morton administered an effective anesthetic to a surgical patient. Consenting to what became a most magnificent scientific revolution were John Warren, an apprehensive surgeon, and Glenn Abbott, an even more nervous young man about to undergo removal of a vascular tumor on the left side of his neck. Both Warren and Abbott sailed through the procedure painlessly, although some have noted that Abbott moved a bit near the end. Turning away from the operating table toward the gallery packed with legitimately dumbstruck medical students, Warren gleefully exclaimed, “Gentlemen, this is no humbug!”1