Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, May 16, 2016

Anesthesia and Sterile Surgical Techniques

It's hard to see the development of anesthesia and sterile surgical techniques as anything but a step forward for humanity.  Before, surgery was akin to torture, and patients very often succumbed to infection afterward.  With anesthesia, recovery from surgery can still be painful, but the patient is unconscious during the procedure itself, and won't thrash around in pain.  (Of course, local anesthesia can also be used in the right circumstances.  In that case, it is often important to block the patient's view of the surgery with a screen, because the sight of the blood can cause the patient to faint.  The pain itself is nonexistent.)  Also, there is little reason to fear routine surgery, whereas even a minor surgery was a terrible risk before sterile techniques were used.

The result is that we have much more control over our lives than we did previously.  People with debilitating conditions, or who have experienced traumatic injury, can sometimes return to normal life with relatively little disruption or pain.  And, as mentioned, we can use surgery to address less debilitating problems as well.  I wouldn't regard surgery as a totally riskless activity, and so I wouldn't go under the knife for trivial benefit, but I've had a few surgeries and they went well.  Probably millions of people around the world have benefited from what amounts to a technological revolution that played out in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.  (Of course progress continues to be made, but the big leaps forward were the ones I've mentioned:  anesthesia and sterile techniques.  With the addition of antibiotics in the mid-20th century, most of the progress was complete.  Relatively non-invasive techniques, which emerged in the late 20th century, should not be discounted, though.)

None of this is to say that surgery can't go wrong, that it's always prudent to use surgery, or that surgeons never make mistakes.  If you want a full accounting of surgery's role in society, you will have to consider the many ways in which it can go wrong, or in which it can be over-used.  Still, I would say that if anything humanity still suffers from too little access to safe, painless surgery, not too much.  To conclude where I started:  it's hard to see the development of anesthesia and sterile surgical techniques as anything but a step forward for humanity.


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