This is no humbug!

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Dr Murali Chakravarthy, Director, Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain relief, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore highlights the journey of anaesthesia and its role in changing the quality of care available to patients

Anesthesia is one of the most significant medical breakthroughs of all time, and it has completely changed the quality of care available to patients. It is difficult to imagine a healthcare system without anesthesia. We want to commemorate the development, application, and history of anesthesia on World Anaesthesia Day, October 16th, demonstrating how far modern medicine has come.

The year 1846 saw an upheaval in the field of medicine on this day. Sir Willam Thomas Greene Morton conducted the first documented aesthetic at Boston, before which all attempts to demonstrate the painless state that could be achieved had failed.

Nonetheless, Sir Morton enchanted the audience in the ‘Ether Dome’ amphitheater (as it is now known). “Gentlemen!” they said at the time, “This is no humbug,” words allegedly uttered by surgeon John Collins Warren after the first public demonstration of an operation using ether inhalation anesthesia. It is perhaps one of the most famous statements in the history of medicine, with his tombstone epitaph reading, “Inventor and Revealer of Inhalation Anaesthesia: Before Whom, in All Time, Surgery was Agony; By Whom, Pain in Surgery was Averted and Annulled; Since Whom, Science has Control of Pain.” Sir Morton was perhaps unaware of the demonstration’s far-reaching consequences, as the word quickly spread worldwide, despite the lack of advanced communication mechanisms. The anesthesia made surgical procedures painless and safe, with anaesthesiologists meeting the aviation industry’s 6-sigma safety standards, all thanks to a constant focus on safety, quality, and reproducibility using checklists.

Several complex tasks, such as administering neuromuscular blocking agents, were made possible by anesthesia. The patients can relax, making deep cavity surgeries possible by helping a neuromuscular blocking agent, which stops muscular activity while also causing breathing cessation. Handling ceased breathing paved the way for the development of ventilator technology, which allowed doctors to push boundaries and explore previously uncharted territory while keeping a close eye on the sleeping patient.

General anesthesia medications are now more organ-targeted, with fewer side effects and no known long-term effects. Anaesthesiologists also practice regional anesthesia, which eliminates any residual side effects.

Targeting a single nerve rather than the spinal cord has become much easier with tremendous advances in imaging. Anaesthesiologists make a significant contribution to society by possessing the ability to resuscitate a patient. Transporting critical patients, teaching cardiac arrest resuscitation, trauma, emergency management, and assisting in obtaining difficult vascular access are just a few examples.

Modern anaesthesiologists have made surgical procedures safer by breaking into many previously forbidden territories, echoing Dr. Warren’s words, ‘Gentlemen – This is no humbug.’

On World Anesthesia Day, let us congratulate all silent, behind-the-scenes anaesthesiology warriors and thank them for their efforts in saving lives!

anesthesiacritical care
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