Were Monks the first Anaesthetists?
By his own admission David Wilkinson was a ‘terrible’ medical student, yet he rose to become a consultant anaesthetist and head of department at Barts before retiring in 2008. He is a Past President of the World Federation of the Societies of Anaesthesiologists and lectures widely on the history of anaesthesia, on which he is currently preparing a book.
During his presentation David described the early days of anaesthesia in Arabia and China, and the important role of herbal mixtures, many of them cultivated by monks, over more than 3000 years. The destruction of the monasteries by Henry VIII helped to put this industry back by a couple of hundred years, so anaesthesia is widely thought to have begun with the administration of ether in 1846, a theory which David believes is wrong!
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