A Silver Lining: Ether & Chloroform

Ether

Ether was discovered in 1275 by Raymundus Lullius and called Sweet Vitriol. In 1540 Valerius Cordus described how to make it and Paracelsus discovered its hypnotic effects. In 1730 A S Frobenius called it ether.

Chloroform

Discovered in the 1830s, the anaesthetic properties of chloroform were not realised initially. Liverpool chemist David Waldie, suggested chloroform to James Young Simpson, Professor of Obstetrics in Edinburgh as an alternative to ether. On 4 November 1847 after supper, Simpson and his colleagues inhaled chloroform. Four days later, Simpson used it to relieve labour pain in his patients. It was quickly taken up in other areas of medicine and became part of the standard issue British Army medical kit in the First World War.

Schimmelbusch facepiece

Schimmelbusch facepiece

This was the first mask with a gutter around the rim to collect liquid anaesthetic agent and stop it running down the face irritating the eyes and skin. It became a standard mask.

Symons drop bottle

Symons drop bottle

Early anaesthetics were often given by the ‘open’ drop method. The patient inhaled vapour from a handkerchief on which the agent was dripped from a bottle such as this. This was particularly useful in situations where vaporizers were impractical such as wartime.

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