Failure News

Ether parties and the discovery of anaesthesia


The course of action:

At the start of the 19th century, so-called “ether and laughing gas parties” were very popular. Guests would inhale some ether fumes or laughing gas so that they could reach a cheerful high. A doctor in training named Long was present at one of these parties. It was at this party that Long bumped his leg against a table. To his astonishment, he felt no pain.

The result:

Long was the first person who used anaesthesia for surgical purposes.
At first he tested ether in minor operations only. In 1842, he performed the painless amputation of a patient’s toe.

The lesson:

Many ideas for new discoveries originate at times when people are having new experiences. Strikingly often, these experiences have little or no relation to the discovery.

Published by:
Muriel de Bont


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