Julie Fenster, "Unbearable Pain: Fate and Horace Wells in the Discovery of Surgical Anesthetics"

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Julie Fenster is the New York Times Best-selling author of Ether Day: The Strange Tale of America's Greatest Medical Discovery and the Haunted Men Who Made It. Join us to learn more about the invention of anesthesia and the role of Hartford's own Horace Wells in one of medicine's greatest discoveries. Until 1846, medical science was as much at the mercy of pain as were pathetic surgical patients, screaming in agony. Innovative treatments languished due to the inability of doctors to give patients any effective answer to pain. In fact, by the mid-19th century, physicians around the world regarded the search for a painkiller to be a hopeless folly.

Pain was accepted as a part of the human experience. Horace Wells of Hartford was one of the three New Englanders who broke through all of the resistance, along with a great deal of derision, to introduce the first surgical anesthetic. It was immediately hailed as "America's greatest gift to humanity." The three inventors didn't cooperate with one another, yet each offered one piece of a puzzle that had eluded humanity for thousands of years. One was an expert chemist. One was a former con-artist with the force of personality to bring the new discovery to the fore. Neither, however, would have had a role without Horace Wells. His innocent belief that nothing is impossible allowed him to originate the core of the idea. Unfortunately, his high hopes turned to bewilderment and ultimately to a tragic new use for anesthetic drugs.