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Before the mid-19th century, when modern anesthetics started to be developed, you would most likely live with your affliction or undergo surgery with little or no help for pain. Often patients would need to be restrained. An 18th-century French encyclopedia described how to perform bladder surgery by first restraining the patient in a special "surgical chair."

Efforts to manage pain have been a constant in human history. A variety of substances and techniques have been used, including opium, cannabis, alcohol, mandragora root, and hypnotism. None of these proved entirely reliable or completely effective.

Nitrous oxide, developed in the late 18th century, was the first gas recognized to have anesthetic properties. Its effects, which included giddiness, earned it the nickname of "laughing gas." Ether was developed shortly after nitrous oxide. Neither gas, however, was used to anesthetize humans at that time. In fact, nitrous oxide was often used for entertainment purposes at "laughing gas parties" or by sideshow entertainers.

The first successful use of ether as an anesthetic occurred in 1842 when Dr. Crawford W. Long used it when he removed a tumor from a friend's neck. Dr. Long, however, failed to publicize the event, and in 1846 a Boston dentist, Dr. William T. G. Morton, became credited with the discovery of general anesthesia when he successfully administered ether to anesthetize a patient while removing a tumor. As one would imagine, ether's reputation spread quickly. So did the reputation of chloroform, used successfully for the first time in 1847.

Anesthesiology continued to advance, and in 1875 intravenous administration of anesthetics was developed. Greater study of anesthesiology in the 20th and 21st centuries has led to many advances, and anesthesiology has become increasingly more sophisticated, revolutionizing the practice of surgery.

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