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DR. CRAWFORD W. LONG'S DISCOVERY OF ANESTHESIA INAUGURATES A
NEW ERA IN THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE AND MARKS THE BIRTHDAY OF MODERN SURGERY-ON MARCH 30, 1842, DOCTOR LONG, AT JEFFERSON, EXTRACTS A TUMOR FROM THE NECK OF JAMES M. VENABLESULPHURIC ETHER Is EMPLOYED TO PRODUCE SLEEP—THE TUMOR EXTRACTED WITHOUT PAIN—AFFIDAVITS ESTABLISHING DATE AND CHARACTER OF THE OPERATION–How DOCTOR LONG CHANCED TO MAKE HIS WONDERFUL DISCOVERY OF THE ANESTHETIC POWER OF SULPHURIC ETHER-RIVAL CLAIMANTS-HORACE WELLS—WILLIAM T. G. MORTON-CHARLES T. JACKSON-BUT DOCTOR LONG EASILY FORESTALLS THEM ALL-RECOGNIZED TODAY ON BOTH SIDES OF THE WATER AND BY THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD AS THE DISCOVERER OF ANESTHESIA— SKETCH OF DOCTOR LONG'S PROFESSIONAL CAREER—DIES AT THE BEDSIDE OF A PATIENT IN 1878—DR. J. MARION SIMS, OF NEW YORK, MAKES A THOROUGH INQUIRY INTO ALL THE FACTS-PUBLISHES AN AUTHORITATIVE REVIEW—AN ADMIRER PRESENTS A LIFE-SIZE PORTRAIT OF DOCTOR LONG TO THE STATE OF GEORGIA-GEN. JOHN B. GORDON MAKES THE SPEECH OF PRESENTATION—THE DONOR IS AFTERWARDS BURIED BESIDE DOCTOR LONG IN ATHENS—A MONUMENT IN HONOR OF THE GREAT DISCOVERER Is UNVEILED AT JEFFERSON—A TABLET. TO HIS MEMORY IS PLACED ON THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA-ALL THE EVIDENCE CAREFULLY WEIGHED.
On March 30, 1842, in the Town of Jefferson, Georgia, Dr. Crawford W. Long, then an unknown country doctor, barely twenty-seven years of age, performed an operation which marked an epoch in the history of medicine. At this time Doctor Long successfully employed sulphuric ether in extracting a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. The patient, while under the influence of the anesthetic, experienced no sensation of pain whatever, and was not aware that an operation had been performed until consciousness was regained. It was the work of only a few moments; but from this operation dates the discovery of anesthesia—perhaps the greatest boon ever bestowed upon mankind. It put an end to the terrors of the knife, proclaimed the rise of modern surgery and dispelled the nightmare of centuries.
Doctor Long's discovery antedated Morton's by four years—that of Wells by two years and six months. He did not commercialize his chievement by seeking to obtain patent rights, nor did he make any haste to announce it with a flourish of trumpets; but the whole scientific world has at length come to recognize the priority of the Georgian's
claim.* On March 30, 1912, there was unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania a handsome bronze medallion in honor of Dr. Crawford W. Long, on which occasion some of the most noted physicians of America were present. On May 21, 1910, near the scene of his great discovery, in the Town of Jefferson, a substantial monument to Doctor Long was unveiled by the State Medical Association. In 1879, Mr. Henry L. Stuart, of New York, presented to the Legislature of Georgia a handsome life-size portrait of Doctor Long, which today hangs on the walls of the state capitol. Gen. John B. Gordon, in an eloquent speech, formally tendered the portrait. On this occasion Mr. Stuart himself was present. After the ceremonies he left for Athens to visit the grave of Doctor Long, and while there was fatally stricken with paralysis. Being without family ties or connections at the North, he was buried in accordance with his wishes in Oconee Cemetery, at Athens, in the same lot with the great discoverer, whose services to mankind he was one of the first to recognize and honor. The Republic of France has likewise paid tribute to Doctor Long; and Georgia has voted to place his statue in the nation's capitol at Washington.
When King Edward VII awakened after his operation for appendicitis, his first question was, “Who discovered anesthesia ?” to which the answer came back, “Dr. Crawford Long, Your Majesty."
This spontaneous tribute from the king's physician may be taken as an expression of British sentiment.
The following account of the discovery of anesthesia has been condensed from a sketch written by Mr. T. W. Reed for Men of Mark in Georgia. There is doubtless no one in the state more conversant with the facts in the case than Mr. Reed, who has long been a distinguished resident of the town in which the last twenty-six years of Doctor Long's life were spent. It was the celebrated Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who coined the word anesthesia ; but the credit which attaches to the great discovery itself belongs to the modest Georgia doctor, whose mission in life was to mingle the sleeping liquid of Lethe's fabled fountain with the healing waters of Bethesda's pool.
To the discovery of anesthesia the human race must forever stand indebted. Through the magic of this great discovery the sum of human pain has been vastly lessened, the horrors of war have been mitigated, the advance of surgery has been made possible, the average duration of human life has been lengthened, and every department of human activity has been given additional energy, through which magnificent achievements have come to bless the world. Despite all claims to the contrary, the honor of having made this transcendent discovery belongs to Crawford W. Long.
The passing years have brought forth abundant evidence on this subject; and the State of Georgia, backed by the endorsement of the highest authority, has set her official seal upon the achievement of her distinguished son by legislative resolution that his statue shall be placed in Statuary Hall in the nation's capitol as one
* See “New International Encyclopaedia,'' New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., Vol. I, p. 492, under Anesthetic; also Vol. XII, p. 433, under Long, Crawford W.
of Georgia's two greatest citizens. Nor is Georgia alone in asserting the justice of his ciaim, for across the seas the French have erected a statue to his memory in the capital city of that republic.
Crawford W. Long, son of James and Elizabeth Ware Long and grandson of Samuel and Ellen Williamson Long, was born in Danielsville, Georgia, November 1, 1815.
After a few years of preparation in the local academy he entered Franklin College, now the University of Georgia, and received his Master of Arts degree in 1835, at the age of nineteen, ranking second in his class. During his college days he was a roommate of Alexander H. Stephens, whose statue Georgia is to place alongside that of the discoverer of anesthesia in the capitol at Washington. * In 1839 he was graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania. The succeeding twelve months he spent in a hospital in New York, and on account of his success as a surgeon he was urged by his friends to apply for the position of a surgeon in the United States navy. This was, however, contrary to the wishes of his father, and he returned to his native state, locating in Jefferson, Jackson County, Georgia, in 1841. At that time Jefferson was a mere village, far removed from the large cities and the railroads.
The young country doctor quickly became a general favorite on account of his quiet, dignified bearing, his uniform courtesy, his tender heart, and his desire at all times to be of service to his people in their hours of trouble or suffering. In those days nitrous oxide parties were all the rage. The inhalation of this gas resulted in great exhilaration. Doctor Long did not boast a very extensive laboratory. In fact, it was practically impossible, with his meagre equipment, to prepare nitrous oxide. He, therefore, used sulphuric ether, and the same hilarious effect followed. Ether parties speedily became the fad among the young people of Jefferson.
During January, 1842, quite a number of ether frolics were held at Doctor Long's office, and some of the young men became thoroughly intoxicated through use of the gas. In the rough playing which followed severe bruises were received upon their bodies, but they seemed to take no notice of them. The thought dawned upon the mind of Doctor Long that ether must possess the power to deaden pain. One night, during an ether frolic, one of the young men slipped and fell, dislocating his ankle. Although the injury was quite severe, Doctor Long observed that the young man was practically unconscious of suffering. His belief in the power of ether to render one insensible to pain now deepened into a settled conviction, and he resolved to prove his discovery by using ether in the first surgical case he might chance to get.
Two miles from Jefferson lived James M. Venable, a young man who had frequently been in Doctor Long's office and who had several times spoken to the physician about cutting two tumors from the back of his neck. Convinced of the anesthetic powers of sulphuric ether, Doctor Long disclosed to Venable his plans for the operation. On March 30, 1842, sulphuric ether was administered to Venable until he became completely anesthetized. The small cystic tumor was then excised from the back of his neck and the patient was amazed when he regained consciousness to find that the operation was over and the tumor removed, without causing him the slightest pain. In fact, he had not even known that the operation was being performed. It is beyond question that this date marks the discovery of anesthesia.
Dr. Horace Wells, ignorant of Doctor Long's discovery, tried laughing gas on himself in 1844. Dr. William T. G. Morton announced his discovery in 1846.* Dr. Charles T. Jackson accidentally inhaled chlorine gas in 1842 and used ether as an antidote, thus producing partial anesthetization, but he did not pursue the subject further at that time. Although Jefferson was a small village and Doctor Long a young physician, he operated on at least eight cases, each being thoroughly successful, before Morton claimed to have discovered anesthesia. It is claimed that Doctor Long kept his discovery secret, and therefore deserved no credit for it. The affidavits of Dr. Ange DeLaperriere and Dr. Joseph B. Carlton show that Doctor Long informed them and other physicians, and that they used ether successfully in their surgical practice before the date of Doctor Morton's announcement.
In 1849 Morton asked Congress to reward him for his discovery. Jackson at once opposed him. The friends of Wells, who was then dead, also protested against his claim. Long refused to enter this contest until 1854, at which time he was urged by his friends to assert vigorously his claim to the honor. He thereupon communicated the facts in the case to United States Senator William C. Dawson, who brought Doctor Long's claim to the attention of Congress, creating consternation among the rival claimants. Much wrangling followed, and the merits of the issue were never determined. The date of Jackson's claim more nearly approaches that of Long's claim than does that of either of the others, but Jackson before his death wrote to Senator Dawson, acknowledging the justice of Long's claim.
Congress having failed to settle the disputed question of priority in the discovery of anesthesia, Doctor Long failed to receive the credit due him until May, 1877, when Dr. J. Marion Sims, of New York, investigated his claims fully and presented them in an able paper published in the Virginia Medical Monthly. To the demand for recognition made by Doctor Sims there was a general response, which brought much cheer to the heart of the distinguished discoverer. Eminent physicians the world over hastened to give him full credit for the great boon conferred upon humanity, and since then his claims to distinction as the discoverer of anesthesia have not seriously been questioned.
Morton called the anesthetic which he patented “Letheon." It is today known as ether. Wells committed suicide in the City of New York, where he became mentally unbalanced after fruitless efforts to establish his claim. Morton communicated his idea to Dr. J. C. Warren, of Boston, who is alleged to have performed the first 'public operation on a person anesthetized with ether, at the Massachusetts General Hospital, October 16, 1846. Jackson perfected a process of etherization for which the French Academy offered him a prize of 2,000 francs. Dr. James Y. Simpson, a Scotch physician of Edinburgh, who discovered chloroform anesthesia, in 1856, was created a baronet.