The Most Important Article in NEJM History

Posted by • November 1st, 2012


"First Operation Under Ether" by Robert C. Hinckley

Throughout the 200th anniversary year we have asked for your votes, and you have responded with a resounding favorite. Since the 1846 report from Boston surgeon Henry Jacob Bigelow, “Insensibility during Surgical Operations Produced by Inhalation,” so many of the significant advances we’ve seen rely on the use of anesthesia. It is difficult to imagine medicine today without it.

If you haven’t read the original report yet, it’s worth taking a few minutes to travel back to the mid-nineteenth century, when Bigelow wrote, “It has long been an important problem in medical science to devise some method of mitigating the pain of surgical operations.  An efficient agent for this purpose has at length been discovered. A patient has been rendered completely insensible during an amputation of the thigh, regaining consciousness after a short interval. Other severe operations have been performed without the knowledge of the patients.”

The beginning of ether anesthesia won the final round of voting against many other significant developments published in NEJM over the last two centuries: the first description of platelets, the beginning of bone marrow transplantation, studies on an attenuated measles vaccine, the first oral ACE inhibitor, the knowledge that aspirin prevents heart attacks, the  first treatment of stroke, or understanding how to prevent type II diabetes.

Explore the historical timeline for more milestones.

Comments are closed.