Crawford W. Long

As a medical student, Crawford W. Long (1815-1878) observed the horrific pain suffered by patients during operations. He sought a solution through a compound of sulfuric ether and nitrous oxide. His peers viewed his efforts with skepticism, but today Long receives credit as the father of anesthesia.

Crawford W. Long, born November 1, 1815, grew up the son of a wealthy merchant and planter in Danielsville, Georgia. He attended the University of Georgia and upon graduating began his medical studies at Transylvania College in Kentucky. He later transferred to the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where he received his medical degree in 1839. Well versed in the newest techniques in his profession, the young doctor returned to his home state and launched his practice in Jefferson, Georgia. As a student and as a newly-minted doctor, Long witnessed the agonies patients suffered during surgical procedures. Doctors attempted to alleviate this pain using alcohol, hypnotism, or opiates, but these efforts proved inadequate. Long, aware of the ameliorative effects of nitrous oxide – “laughing gas” – and sulfuric ether on pain and having experimented with both as recreational drugs during college parties, saw their possibilities for the medical profession. After achieving promising results with “laughing gas,” Long began using stronger anesthetics such as sulfuric ether. These efforts produced favorable outcomes. Long’s efforts to make his procedures more widely available encountered skepticism from older members of the profession. Long’s advocacy for the use of ether to ease patient pain gained a boost, however, when a newspaper reported on the successful use ether by William Morton, a dentist in Boston, during dental procedures. Eager to receive recognition for his contributions to the medical field, Long hastily compiled his own account of his work and secured testimonials from his patients. He submitted this evidence to the Medical College of Georgia. Although Long wanted recognition for his efforts, he never attempted to exploit his discoveries for financial gain. In 1851, Long relocated his practice to Athens where he also opened a pharmacy with his brother Robert. During the Civil War, Long continued to reside in Athens where he treated the wounded of both sides of the conflict. He died on June 6, 1878, shortly after delivering a baby. Long never received the credit he desired for his contributions to anesthetics during his lifetime, but the year following his death, on June 18, 1879, the National Eclectic Medical Association adopted a resolution crediting Long with discovering anesthesia.

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