Anesthesia enables modern surgery, reducing pain and risk. Before anesthesia, patients were held down and surgeons would have to operate quickly. Amputations were common because surgeons did not have the time to do more complicated work before a patient went into shock from the pain.
Ether is the first anesthesia. William Morton, a dentist, is the first to document its use. Doctors considered Morton’s field, dentistry, lower status. Therefore, doctors Charles Jackson and Horace Wells claimed to have used ether first, without demonstrating it to others.
Historians today widely agree they plagiarized Morton’s work and that their claims are without merit. Because surgeries without anesthesia with so terrible any doctor would have immediately announced the breakthrough, as Morton did.
Despite the groundbreaking work, Morton declared bankruptcy in 1863 and died 17 years later.