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Life before Anesthesia


EMO ether inhaler and Oxford inflating bellows

This is how Fanny Burney described the mastectomy she received in 1811, a long time before effective anesthesia was available:

I mounted, therefore, unbidden, the bed stead. When the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast – cutting through veins – arteries ––flesh – nerves – I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries… O heaven! – I then felt the knife rattling against the breast bone – scraping it!

If I had read that paragraph to my wife, she would respond by saying: “How do you think listening to that paragraph improved my day?” A fair point, no doubt. I guess I can only hope that sometimes remembering how bad things were helps us appreciate how good they are now.

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