05/11/2015  |  
Posted in Fun Dental Facts
The First Statue Built in Boston Public Garden Is Dedicated to Anesthetic Gas

If you’re looking for a good road-trip destination, how about a visit to the historic Boston Public Garden? There, you can take in the attractive plantings, enjoy a ride on the renowned swan boats… and see a statue dedicated to the anesthetic gas called ether.

Sound a little loopy? It really isn’t! In fact, the construction of this statue in 1868 — the first one built in the Public Garden — demonstrates how grateful the people of Boston were for the ability to have pain-free medical procedures. While we enjoy the benefits of modern-day anesthesia, it’s easy to forget that in the not-so-distant past, the pain that could result from some medical treatments was truly a thing to fear.

But that began to change on Oct. 16, 1846. As an audience of doctors watched expectantly, a dentist named Thomas A. Morton administered ether to a 20-year-old man at nearby Massachusetts General Hospital. After the patient was anesthetized, a tumor was painlessly removed from his neck.

Word of the successful procedure quickly spread in medical journals, and anesthesia soon became an accepted (and welcomed) practice. So why wasn’t the statue dedicated to Morton himself? His claim of priority was hotly disputed by other doctors, who were vying for lucrative patent rights to the process — and a proposed $100,000 reward from the U.S. Congress. To avoid choosing sides, the 40-foot-tall monument simply depicts a robed figure, representing an ancient doctor, tending to an unconscious patient.

Today, of course, ether is a thing of the past. When anesthesia or sedation is needed, medical professionals have many safer and more effective drugs available (see our IV Sedation article). Still, it’s worthwhile to remember how far medical science has come in the time since the statue was built — and to give a little bit of thanks to those who pioneered pain-free dentistry.


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