How significant was James Simpsons role in solving the problem of surgery during the 19th century?

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Thamanya Kugathasan

02 March 2010

How significant was James Simpson’s role in solving the problem of surgery during the 19th century?

During the 19th century, there were many attempts to perform surgery without there being any risk towards the patient. This usually meant that the surgeons had to overcome problems of pain, infection and blood loss which were the three main ways in which patients died during surgery. Many individuals discovered methods to make surgery safer. One of these men was a Scottish doctor, by the name of James Simpson, who discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform and successfully introduced it for general medical use.

Of course, there were other individuals who had used different varieties of anaesthetics before James Simpson. In 1799 Sir Humphrey Davy discovered laughing gas which reduced pain felt by patients. It was mostly used by dentists during teeth extractions, which caused excruciating pain. In 1846, J.R Lister used ‘ether’ as an anaesthetic so the patient would be unconscious during operation. However this was soon dismissed as it irritated the lungs and caused the patient to cough during the operation as well as the fact that ether is highly flammable. The fact that others had already tried to come up with suitable anaesthetics that could be used in surgery shows that James Simpson’s discovery had been built up with knowledge of previous attempts. It also proves that he wasn’t solely responsible for discovering ‘anaesthetics’.

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James Simpson was appointed the Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University due to his interest in obstetrics. In 1847, Simpson discovered the properties of chloroform during an experiment with friends in which he learnt that it could be used to put one to sleep. It was very much up to chance that Simpson survived the chloroform dosage he administered to himself. If he had inhaled too much, subsequently passing away from an overdose, chloroform would have been seen as a dangerous substance. However, if Simpson had inhaled slightly less it would not have put him to sleep. It was his ...

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