Although the development of anesthesia took place in the 1840’s, surgery was still not regularly performed due to fear of infection and other complications. That was until the Civil War started in 1861, which caused the number of necessary operations to drastically increase. According to an article in the newsletter of the American Society of Anesthesiologists by Maurice S. Albin, M.D., “The sheer magnitude of battlefield injuries during the conflict played a major role in establishing the regular use of anesthesia.” The need for surgery was greater than ever before, which gave physicians no choice but to use anesthesia to operate. Methods Prior to Anesthesia Prior to the the war, patients may have been given something to bite on, alcohol, opioid drugs, or put in physical restraints to keep them under control during surgery. According to Albin, “It was thought to be unmanly for a male to undergo surgery with an anesthetic, which was usually reserved for women and children. There was even a belief that the use of ‘cold steel’ had a beneficial effect, and it would not cause the depression thought to occur with the use of anesthesia.” “Real Men” Don’t Need Anesthesia The idea of anesthesia being “unmanly”, quickly shifted as the war progressed and the number of injuries rapidly increased. It became a necessity in battlefield hospitals, and is believed that there were around 120,000 uses of anesthetic agents by surgeons on both sides during the battle. Anesthesia on the Fly At the time of the Civil War, many surgeons and physicians had little no experience with using an anesthetic during operations. They were forced to rely on manuals which gave them instructions on how to properly use anesthetics such as ether and chloroform. Although many doctors lacked experience with these agents, mortality rates associated with the use of an anesthetic were surprisingly low. Albin stated, “After the termination of this horrendous conflict, these doctors would return to their practices, hospitals and medical schools, all the richer for being exposed to this unique American contribution to the life-easing quality of mercy — the discovery of anesthesia.” Physicians benefited from learning firsthand the techniques and uses of anesthetics, and many lives of wounded soldiers were saved as a result. Today, millions of people undergo anesthesia each year in the United States alone, and it has become extremely common. Although anesthesia has developed and changed over the years, its regular use was established during the time of the Civil War.
General anesthesia is very commonly used to induce unconsciousness in patients undergoing surgery. Each year millions of people in the United States are required to receive anesthesia, and there is no single right amount for every patient. Factors such as weight, age, gender, illness, and medications all play a role in determining just how much anesthesia each person needs. A patient’s heart rate and rhythm, breathing rate, blood pressure, and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are also monitored so the amount of anesthesia can be adjusted as needed. A recent study from the University of Cambridge, published in PLOS Computational Biology, may have identified a better way to calculate the amount of anesthesia one may need. A group of 20 volunteers were involved in this study to discover how brainwaves can identify patient anesthesia needs. The Brain Signals and Anesthesia As different areas of the brain communicate with each other they give off signals that can indicate a person’s level of consciousness. In the study, researchers gave a steadily increasing dosage of propofol to the group of healthy volunteers (9 male, 11 female). Their brain activity was monitored using an electroencephalogram (EEG). While receiving the propofol, the individuals were asking to perform a simple task where they would hit one button after hearing a “ping” and a different button after hearing a “pong”. All of the people involved in this study had the same limited amount of propofol and once that limit was hit some were unconscious while others were still awake and able to continue performing the task. Researchers studied EEG results and found a very clear difference between that brain activity of those who were affected by that amount of anesthetic and those who were still able to perform the task. EEG readings showed that volunteers with more alpha wave activity prior to receiving the anesthesia required more propofol to put them under. Researchers said “These findings could lead to more accurate drug titration and brain state monitoring during anesthesia,”. Dr Tristan Bekinschtein, senior author from the Department of Psychology, adds: “EEG machines are commonplace in hospitals and relatively inexpensive. With some engineering and further testing, we expect they could be adapted to help doctors optimise the amount of drug an individual needs to receive to become unconscious without increasing their risk of complications.” Although this is a relatively new study, many agree that with more testing and research, monitoring brainwave activity prior to administering anesthesia may be a useful, non-invasive way of measuring the dosage needed for each unique patient.
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