Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sulphuric ether comes to the colony

Sketch by L E Wards of the Lands Department, from a drawing made in 1948, published in the Evening Post 22 January 1927. In 1848, the building was damaged by an earthquake, and was replaced by another on the csame site in 1851.

The March issue of the Otaki Historical Society newsletter mentions an article in their journal about the Wellington Colonial Hospital, dating from 1847, and the first use of ether in surgery in New Zealand by Dr. James Patrick Fitzgerald. Not completely as we'd understand the procedure of "going under the gas" these days -- the ether seems to have been used more as a sort of dulling Agent, rather than completely knocking the patient out. The actual first application on the same day, Monday 27 September 1847, for a patient in the local gaol who needed a wisdom tooth removed, did not go smoothly.

On Monday Dr. Fitzgerald, Dr. Monteith, and Mr. Marriott the ingenious constructor of the inhaling apparatus used on the occasion, proceeded to the gaol to try the efficacy of the new discovery on one of the prisoners who wished to have a tooth extracted; the apparatus was applied to the patient's mouth, and after inhaling some time without any effect, Mr. Marriott altered the instrument, when the desired effect almost immediately followed, the patient falling into a state of insensibility; the forceps were then applied, but the tooth being decayed, the side of it fell in from the pressure, and the effect of the ether immediately went off. Dr. Fitzgerald said that if the tooth had not broken, or with a properly fitting claw (the tooth being the furthest in the upper jaw, to which in some cases it is very difficult to apply the instrument), the tooth would have been extracted without any pain.

NZ Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, 29 September 1847

As someone who has had to have a misaligned tooth removed in the past few weeks -- but under local anaesthetic -- I wince, and wonder how the poor blighter in the chair made it through ...

Then, on to the main event later that day.
[At] the Native Hospital, Dr. Fitzgerald, assisted by Dr. Monteith, removed a large tumour extending from the top of the left shoulder across the back to the right shoulder blade, from a native chief of Waikanae who had come to Dr. Fitzgerald for that purpose. Several of the natives of Pipitea pa were present. Mr. Marriott applied the inhaling apparatus to the patient, an old man, who soon went off into the usual state, and Dr. Fitzgerald commenced the operation : the patient was insensible until after the third incision, but quickly recovered from the effects of the ether, which was not reapplied: the tumour was very large, being about three pounds in weight. Other medical gentlemen were to have been present, but as the native expressed great anxiety to return home, and every thing was in readiness, it was not deemed advisable to postpone the operation. As this is the first instance of the application of the new discovery in this settlement, and the apparatus for inhaling was constructed merely from the descriptions which have appeared in the English papers, a good deal of caution was observed in each case, particularly in the latter, for fear of any unfavourable effect on the native mind in the event of a failure of the experiment: sufficient success, however, has attended the trial to warrant greater confidence in a repetition of the experiment.

NZ Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, 29 September 1847

Extract from report from Dr. J Fitzgerald:
The first and surest proof that the natives appreciate the Hospital is that it has been always full since its opening. I have had natives from Otaki, Wainui, Manawatu, and other places up the coast, and also from Waikanae, from which place the first native patient was admitted, namely, the old chief Hiangarere, who was put under the influence of Sulphuric Ether previous to the removal of a large tumour from between his shoulders. From this native's son I forward a letter showing how the old man appreciated the Hospital …

NZ Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian, 5 February 1848

Auckland's medicos seemed to be much slower in taking on this newfangled method of dulling the pain. In Australia, it seems to have been used since August 1847 at least (one bloke near Melbourne having a limb amputated under ether).

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