What is Doctor’s Day, and Why That Matters
In the United States, March 30th of every year is “Doctor’s Day”. The history of this date has some value for all of us who care for vulnerable but hopeful patients.
On March 30th, 1842, Dr. Crawford Long administered what is generally recognized to be the first chemical anesthetic for a surgical procedure. He successfully used what we would now call open-drop diethyl ether before removing a tumor from his patient’s neck.
For his time, Dr. Long was a very well-trained general practitioner in smaller towns such as Jefferson, Georgia. He only published the results of his ether trials in 1849, several years after the famous 1846 “Ether Day” demonstration by William T. G. Morton at the Massachusetts General Hospital. This delayed publication kept Crawford Long from early recognition, but also kept him from the angst and hostile controversy among other less honorable anesthesia innovators. He continued as a successful and well-regarded general practitioner until his death from a stroke during an obstetric delivery in 1878. Celebration of Doctor’s Day was initiated by the Womens’ Auxiliary of the Georgia Medical Association.
For perspective on why this is not just old dry history, consider that diethyl ether was a popular recreational substance for years before it was used for surgical patients. Long, Morton, and others understood the potential from knowledge of recreational events with ether and/or nitrous oxide. A brief Google/Wikipedia search for pre-anesthetic mastectomies such as that of Abigail and John Adam’s daughter “Nabby” gives a visceral impression of what was done with only patient’s courage and physical restraint. Medical students might attend ether frolics in an evening and the next day watch surgical patients who were held down by “three strong men of good character”.
So………. EVERY March 30th, WE should all ask ourselves, “What are we doing that causes our patients unnecessary suffering? What should we do differently as innovative and compassionate doctors on ‘Doctor’s Day’ ??“. Crawford Long says we should!
-By Dr Nathan Williams, MD
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine