Looking back on a long and storied history of medical breakthroughs, we’re inclined to remember the discoveries that take the form of lifesaving solutions: penicillin, the polio vaccine, radiotherapy, antiretroviral drugs. Our minds turn almost naturally to the game-changing inventions designed to cure or prevent disease; rarely do they conjure up those that sow the seeds of a whole new playing field.
Such is the story of modern anesthesia, first administered in Boston on this day in 1846. If surgery was the game-changing solution to save or improve lives, anesthesia was the discovery that allowed the game (as we know it) to be played in the first place. And it’s only fitting that we rarely remember its role.