Australian Anaesthetic History- Part 2

Some answers for you. Again these mostly come from Dr Wilson’s “One Grand Chain”.

The first anaesthetic for a surgical procedure was given by William Ross Pugh in June, 1847 at Launceston.  This is probably true and the actual date was the 7th of June. The patient was a woman with a mandibular tumour. Seems this is a popular condition to have treated under historically significant anaesthetics- Morton anaesthetized Gilbert Abbott who also had a lump in his neck.  There is a statue of Pugh in Launceston that commemorates the event. There is reasonable evidence to suggest that Pugh wasn’t a properly qualified medical practitioner.

The first anaesthetic given in Australia was also by William Ross Pugh.   This is probably true. Pugh’s anaesthetics are the best documented but there are a couple of other contenders for the title. Of these a Sydney dentist named John Belisario has the best case to challenge Pugh. Interestingly both men gave anaesthetics on the 7th June, 1847!

The pioneering anaesthetists would have had to make their own ether.   This is true and it is not hard to do.

The first case of awareness under anaesthesia is also attributed to Pugh.  This is true regarding anaesthetics administered in Australia. Pugh anaesthetized three patients on 7th June (attempted to actually, the third case was a failure due to equipment issues). The second patient had a cataract removed and was aware but didn’t report it to be painful. The first case of anaesthetic awareness occurred with the iconic first ‘successful’ demonstration of ether by Morton on 16 October, 1846. The patient, Gilbert Abbott, later reported being aware of the procedure and that it was indeed painful. Presumably it would have been a lot worse if he’d had no ether at all!

The first reported anaesthetic death in Australia is also attributed to Pugh.  This is false. The first reported anaesthetic death was in April 1848. Like most ‘anaesthetic’ deaths there were several other contributing factors. The unfortunate patient was a middle aged woman named Ann Ryder who suffered two indignities on that fateful day: she was tossed from a carriage and sustained a compound fracture of the leg and she was also robbed. She was given ether and had her leg amputated. She briefly regained consciousness after the procedure but then became obtunded and was unable to be resuscitated. Pouring brandy down an obtunded person’s throat was a popular resuscitative measure at the time. It didn’t work in this instance.

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