30 Mar: Dr Long’s Ethereal Adventures

Pain-free surgery eluded physicians for centuries, but 26-year-old Crawford Williamson Long successfully removed a tumour from the neck of patient James Venable on 30th March, 1842 – whilst Venable was anaesthetised with ether. 


Dr Long had come to appreciate the ‘exhilarating effects’ of ether as a result of attending drug-fuelled parties at medical school – known in his coterie as ‘ether frolics’ – and identifying that, whilst high on ether, he had bruised his body, yet not felt the impact.


In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how Dr Long experimented on his friends, families and unwitting local youths before applying ether surgically; reveal how Queen Victoria caused chloroform to eclipse ether as the anaesthetic of choice for childbirth; and revisit the religious controversies that arose when doctors started ‘playing God’…

Further Reading:

• ‘The surprising (and Long) story of the first use of ether in surgery’ (The Conversation, 2019): https://theconversation.com/the-surprising-and-long-story-of-the-first-use-of-ether-in-surgery-113340

• ‘March 30, 1842: It’s Lights Out, Thanks to Ether’ (WIRED, 2007): https://www.wired.com/2007/03/march-30-1842-its-lights-out-thanks-to-ether/

• ‘Georgia Stories: What Would Surgery Be Like Without Anaesthesia?’ (GPB, 1995):