Today is the birthday of Russian colonel, explorer and geographer Nicolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalski, born March 31, 1839 (old style) and died November 1 1888. Przhevalski (also spelled Przewalski) explored Central and Eastern Asia in search of the holy city of Lhasa in Tibet. Although he did not find the holy city, he was the first European to describe the only known wild horse, now known as Przewalski’s horse.
Image of Przewalski’s horse courtesy Drew Avery, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.
Today marks one of the most significant milestones in medicine and by extension, human progress. On March 30, 1842 American physician Crawford Long completed the first surgery using general anesthesia. Long had read of the physiological properties of nitrous oxide described in the year 1800 by Humphry Davy and worked with ether (diethyl ether) in his practice. He sedated a man and removed a tumor from his neck painlessly and successfully.
The word anesthesia existed in English for over a century by the time Long performed his surgery, entering the language in 1721 from Modern Latin anaisthesia, derived from the Ancient Greek alpha privative prefix α- (a-) (here αν- (an-) as it occurred before a vowel) which negated the word to follow it and the word αισθεσις ·(aisthesis) meaning feeling.
Four years after Crawford Long began his use ether for anesthesia, William Thomas Green Morton staged the first public demonstration of the use of ether by extracting a tooth. Morton was unaware of Long’s earlier experiments, and while Long was an actual doctor who completed medical school, Morton only flirted with the profession, dropping out of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery (now part of University of Maryland, Baltimore) before taking some classes at Harvard Medical School before dropping out there without a degree. Morton became obsessed with proving that he (and not Long) had discovered the anesthetic properties and qualities of ether, and spent the rest of his life seeking patents and Congressional injunctions to prove it and be paid for it.
Image of Crawford Long in the public domain.