History and Use of Anesthetics
Typically before surgery, the last thing most of us remember is counting backward from ten and possibly even seeing the anesthesiologist wave goodbye. As we drift into what seems like a deep sleep, we are somehow awake before we know it. Our eyes open in the post-anesthesia care unit very groggy and potentially still a bit out of it or confused. If the surgery was done correctly, we do not even remember a second of it. So, how exactly does anesthesia work? What is its history, and what are the risks of using anesthetics?
As explained by kidshealth.org, “[anesthesia] is the use of medicine to prevent discomfort during surgery or medical procedures.” This occurs through blocking signals throughout the nervous system that would typically result in pain. Up until very recently, the mechanisms behind how anesthesia specifically worked were unknown. Today, many researchers agree that these drugs target the proteins that are in the membranes around nerve cells in order to intercept pain signals. Although there is still much to be learned, it is suspected that inhaled anesthetics target different proteins than those taken intravenously because they create different effects on the patient. There are three basic types of anesthesia: general, regional, and local. General anesthesia refers to when a patient is unconscious. This is what most people typically think of when referring to anesthesia. General anesthesia can be administered via IV or inhaled through the mouth/nose. Regional anesthesia causes a large area of the body to go numb, therefore relieving any potential pain. Most commonly, regional anesthesia is injected into nerves through the spine. The most prevalent types of regional anesthesia are epidurals, spinal blocks, and even peripheral nerve blocks. Local anesthesia is similar to regional anesthesia except it numbs a smaller area of the body. This type of anesthetic can be provided through a shot, spray, or even an ointment that is lathered on the skin. Both local and regional anesthesia are used when the patient is awake, whereas general anesthesia causes the patient to become unconscious and unable to move.
The use of anesthetics can be traced back all the way to the times of the early Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, and even Incas. With that being said, the amount of pain relief that was guaranteed is still questionable. Because it was common for doctors and surgeons to cause a lot of pain during the process of healing, many believed this was the reason behind their development of dispassion and even emotional detachment. The first suspected European use of anesthetics occurred in the 1200s. At this time, it was common to use opium poppy and even other herbal remedies for the relief of pain. There was not much more doctors had to offer in regard to alleviating pain. Moving forward, the first recorded public use of modernized anesthetics was on October 16, 1846, by William T.G. Morton and surgeon John Collins Warren. They made history by successfully using sulfuric ether to relieve pain during surgery that involved the removal of a large vascular tumor from a man’s neck. Morton called his creation “Letheon.” Moving forward, anesthesia entered the world of obstetrics and much more. It continued evolving as it was being tested in different forms and on different types of surgeries. Today, anesthesia has evolved into an efficient medicine that is used across the globe to remediate pain during surgery and other operations.
Although general anesthesia is typically safe for most patients, anesthesiologists must be careful when choosing who to administer these medications to. The type of surgery a patient is having and their medical history can play a big role in determining factors. For instance, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even obesity can create a higher risk for complications in a patient. Furthermore, if a patient simply consumes food or water before undergoing surgery, this can pose severe challenges for the anesthesiologist. This is because regurgitation during surgery could result in choking and ultimately even death. After the surgery is over, different types of patients will have different side effects. It is very common for a patient to be nauseous after surgery, especially children. Not to mention, many patients will wake up experiencing pain. Although anesthesia can rid the majority of aches, it is still common for discomfort to be present. While this is somewhat unfortunate, this is definitely better than the pain most would feel without any anesthesia at all. The anesthesiologist or CRNA present can administer more or potentially different medications to help subdue this.
So, if you happen to find yourself being rolled back into the operating room for a surgical endeavor, take a moment to recognize the rocky path anesthetics have endured in order to be successful in your surgery and today’s medicine in general. Without much trial and error, and unfortunately pain, many today would still be forced to take on agonizing surgical experiences.