A Mesmerising Story

Before the advent of anaesthesia, surgery was a mad scramble to perform the procedure in the shortest possible time. One of the methods that were tried to save the patient from pain was mesmerism.
Mersmerism was developed by the German physician Franz Anton Mesmer( 1734-1815).He postulated in his doctoral thesis that the planets affected human health and all humans had a universal fluid which could be manipulated to cure the sick and cure the blind. Not surprisingly, he spectacularly failed to do so in Vienna and had to leave the city where he had his practice in 1777. A Jesuit healer, Father Hell, was active at the same time in Vienna. His preferred method of treatment was a magnetic steel plate which he waved about his patients . Mesmer proposed that the magnetic field unblocked his earlier hypothesized subtle magnetic fluid and cured the sick. Later he claimed that simply waving a magnetized pole over a person could do the trick. He managed to use this technique to hypnotise his subjects, but he was denounced as a fraud by a French Royal Commission which had as its members , among others Anton Lavosier, the famous chemist, and Guillotine, the inventor of the eponymous device which finally was used to decapitate Lavosier among many many others.
However mesmerism was used as a form of anesthesia. There is a report of its being used in Hooghly , near Calcutta at the Imambara hospital in the year 1846 on June the fourth. The writer, Dr. Webb, a Professor in the Medical College of Calcutta, attended a surgical list performed by a Dr Esdaile, who operated on a series of patients who had amputations, removal of cancerous growths and several others. He had apparently taught some assistants the method of mesmerism and the patients slept peacefully throughout the surgery waking up only when the “ anesthetist “ again waved a magnet over their face reviving them! There were a large number of spectators all of whom saw the surgery and could vouch for the efficacy of the anesthetic technique!!
It is difficult to believe this story, but it has been corroborated by a large number of reports, there were so many spectators that it was difficult for a carriage to gain entrance into the hospital premises as it was jammed by those who had come early.. Not only that, not withstanding the heat of the day ( It was after all the peak of summer) people came from Calcutta as well as near by places to watch the miracle.
I wonder how it happened? Was it mass hypnotism? Were all the patients drugged beforehand? But the point is that there were no suitable drugs in those days to use for this purpose to numb sensations before surgery.
Any comments anybody? Especially anesthetists?


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