Relieving Surgical Pain

William Morton was born in Massachusetts in 1819. His father was a miner and William started his career in minimum-skill jobs. At age 21, he entered dentistry school. He established his future as an innovator after one year in school. He developed a new way of attaching fake teeth onto plates.

William spent a brief time in medical school before returning to dentistry. At the age of 27, he used ether to perform a tooth extraction. When the news of the painless extraction became known, William was invited to participate in surgery to remove a tumor from the neck of a patient. The success of the surgery spread.

William filed for and received, a patent for the use of ether. The medical community was appalled and fearful that William would limit the use of ether. William tried to assure his professional colleagues that he wouldn’t restrict the use of ether. Ether became widely used.

William had gone into debt in the development of ether and the pursuit of a patent. He sought money from Congress to be made whole but was refused. Eventually, he received support from a fundraising campaign.

William served as a volunteer surgeon in the Civil War. He performed over 2,000 surgeries using ether. William died at the age of 48 from the complications of a stroke.

Hidden heroes must often decide whether to seek personal gains from their work or to provide access to their work for the good of the public. William Morton made the decision on the side of the public good even though he suffered from significant debt for much of his career.

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“Anesthesia is quite remarkable. It’s lost time. And you wake up kind of refreshed.” – Michael Keaton (Actor)

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