Although the history of anesthesia may reach back thousands of years, its practical medical use during surgeries is a relatively new development. Paracelsus was stupefying chickens with ether in the 16th century, and Humphry Davy giggled over his experiments with nitrous oxide in the early 19th. But the Anesthesia Heritage Centre tells the compelling stories of medical pioneers whose efforts enabled myriad lifesaving surgical procedures to develop in the modern medical era.
Shortly after Dr. William Morton first successfully used diethyl ether as a general anesthetic during a surgical procedure in Boston in 1846, the first effective use of anesthetic in the United Kingdom was done at the University College Hospital in London.
The following year, chloroform was introduced and in 1853, it was administered to Queen Victoria during the birth of her son Prince Leopold. By 1893, the London Society of Anaesthetists had been founded, marking a great leap forward from the era of “soporific sponges” hundreds of years earlier.
The Anaesthesia Heritage Centre excels in its presentation of oral histories of anesthetists from the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly from those who served during wartime. Past exhibitions have included: “The Riddle of Shock: Anaesthesia in the First World War,” “A Blessing in Disguise: The Misuse of Anaesthesia,” and “Sir Ivan Magill: Anaesthesia After WWI.” A small permanent gallery devoted to displaying a dizzying array of anesthetic devices also proffers numerous biographical sketches of admirable physicians with compelling personal stories. Even the casual visitor will lose track of time, mesmerized by this topic’s stunning history.
So if you want to feel like a local, stopping at the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre is generally a good idea, especially since it is the one place where passing gas is a life-affirming activity.
Know Before You Go
The Heritage Centre is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 4:00. Last admission is at 3:30, and entry is free. Large group visits must be booked in advance.