General Anesthesia

Professor Emery Brown of MIT on what has to be monitored during anesthesia, side effects of inhalational anesthetics, intravenous drugs, opioids and narcotics

videos | March 3, 2014

When and where did the first public demonstration of anesthesia take place? What is the systematic way for monitoring the physiologic states of patients during anesthesia? Professor of Computational Neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Emery Brown speaks on ether as the first anesthetic.

General anesthesia has been around in the United States since 1846, and one of the things that you commonly hear is that we use it everyday, but we don’t quite know how it works. In fact, in the United States roughly 60,000 people receive anesthesia in some form or another to have surgery or some sort of diagnostic procedures that would be otherwise painful or traumatic.

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What is general anesthesia? It is a state which involves being unconscious: you don’t remember — we say, «amnesia», you don’t feel pain, you are not moving, because that makes it easier for the surgeons to work. And in addition, we maintain stability and control of the physiological systems. So, what we do is we put you in that state and then we keep your physiology — meaning your heart rate, blood pressure stable, your body temperature, so that you can tolerate the procedure, and then we bring you out.

Morton was a dentist. And he realized that he could actually put in a full dental prosthetic if he could remove his patients’ teeth. So he was looking for ways to anesthetize patients (the word didn’t exist at that time). He proposed to warn this idea of using ether as an anesthetic, again, the word didn’t exist at that time. So, in 1846 Gilbert Abbott was brought into the Ether Dome, Abbott was administered ether, he had a sponge which was in a flask, and he held the flask in front of Abbott’s face, Abbott became unconscious, unaware, the surgery was performed.

Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School, Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital; Professor of Computational Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT; Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, MIT
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