10 Groundbreaking Medical Discoveries Not Believed In Their Time

By Jack Ripley | May 27, 2024

Unsuccessful First Attempts Lead to Life-Saving Anesthetics

In the labyrinth of medical science, some discoveries defy belief. Picture skeptics' faces when groundbreaking revelations shatter the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible. From miraculous treatments to baffling phenomena, the journey of medical innovation contains many moments that challenge the very fabric of our understanding. These discoveries, born from the relentless pursuit of knowledge and the courage to question the status quo, unveil realms previously unseen. Join us as we delve into where the unimaginable becomes a reality.

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Horace Wells, an American dentist, was one of the first to experiment with anesthetics. His experiments were sometimes unsuccessful. He often practiced on himself. The substances he was using resulted in changes in his personality, eventually putting him in prison for throwing acid at people walking past him. Yet, the Paris Medical School named him the discoverer of anesthetic gases.

Ether was the first anesthetic widely used in surgery. Dr. Crawford Long, an American physician, performed the first surgery under ether in 1842. He did not widely publicize the event. The first surgery using ether to be publicly discussed was the ether dome demonstration performed by Dr. William T.G. Morton, who was originally Wells' assistant. Morton performed the surgery to remove a tumor on the neck of the first dean of Harvard Medical School. The "ether controversy" of the 19th century arose when medical professionals doubted ether's safety and questioned its necessity. Chloroform would later replace ether as an anesthetic.

Use of Coal Tar Creates Antiseptic Surgery Wards

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In the 19th century, Sir Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, observed that many surgical patients developed life-threatening infections due to bacteria introduced during surgery. Lister started using carbolic acid as an antiseptic agent to prevent and stop these infections. He used it to sterilize surgical instruments, clean wounds, and disinfect the surgical environment. Lister found that using it significantly reduced the risk of postoperative infections.

Lister never claimed to be the first to use carbolic acid in a surgical setting, but he staunchly defended his views that the treatment would work and received a patent for his work. Some doctors questioned whether the use of antiseptics was truly beneficial or merely an unnecessary and potentially harmful addition to surgical practices. As evidence of the effectiveness of antiseptic surgery accumulated and outcomes improved, skepticism gradually waned.