Electrical anaesthesia

electricity as anaesthetic

News of an exciting new anaesthetic reaches the Medical Times and Gazette in 1865:

In a short article in the Lombardy Gazetta Medico, March 13, an account is given of a demonstration made by Dr. Rodolfi, at the Brescia Hospital, in the presence of a large number of Medical Practitioners, of the power of the electrical current to induce local anaesthesia.

The medical use of electricity – often referred to in the literature as Galvanism – emerged in the late eighteenth century was by now well established.  The initial mania for electrical treatments had passed, however, and many practitioners felt that unequivocal benefits from electrical therapy had not been shown.  This is the only reference I’ve seen to electricity as a possible anaesthetic agent.

This is complete enough to admit of the execution of painless Surgical operations, although it does not appear that any such have as yet been performed; and it is remarkable in its extreme duration, three days being spoken of as a common period. It seems that women (especially when nervous or hysterical) are more susceptible of its action than men, and it fails to produce an anaesthetic action in about 6 per cent of the individuals submitted to it. In the case of a woman acted upon before the witnesses, anaesthesia of the hands began to be induced ten minutes after the application of a continuous current from a Bunsen’s pile with six elements; and another woman was exhibited in whom complete anaesthesia had affected the whole surface above the diaphragm for three days. An hysterical subject manifested general anaesthesia, with paresis of movement of the limbs, and submitted to have her tongue traversed with a needle. In her case the anaesthesia continued from ten to fifteen days, gradually diminishing.

I suspect that most anaesthetists would feel that an anaesthetic which lasted fifteen days was far from an ideal one.

The intellectual faculties continue in these cases quite undisturbed. In one of the cases experimented upon anaesthesia could not be induced, which Dr. Rodolfi attributes to the aversion the patient felt to the presence of so large a number of spectators.

3 thoughts on “Electrical anaesthesia”

  1. Didn’t the father of the lobotomy use electrical stimulation to anesthetize his patients before the procedure?

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, Walter Freeman invented an electroshock machine to produce an unconscious patient without the need for an anaesthetist, so that lobotomies could take place in mental institutions. More on that here.

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