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Morton Versus Jackson: Compare with the Soporific Sponge and Ether Therapy

Gentili, Marc E. MD, PhD; Bonnet, Francis MD, PhD

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000000153
Letters to the Editor: Letter to the Editor

Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Centre Hospitalier Privé, Saint-Grégoire, Saint-Grégoire, France,

Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care CHU Tenon Paris, France

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To the Editor

I have several questions regarding Haridas et al.’s1,2 interesting commentaries surrounding the inhaler used as part of the “first surgical anesthetic. First, and related to the extremely brief duration of 2 weeks between the application of ether onto a handkerchief to a more sophisticated device, in a letter to Whitney describing the inhaler, Jackson used the term “common tubulated globe receiver that is a simple vessel used to distill. It should be noted that Jackson was a chemist and therefore had experience using the device or at least had knowledge of how it should be used. Curiously, this modern system then included a sponge that recalls the soporific sponges used in the Middle Ages to complete surgery. These were soaked in juices of plants (mandrake, lettuce) with hypnotic properties and positioned below the patient’s nostrils.1,3 Jackson was a true scientist with broad skills in chemistry, geology, and, of course, in medicine as evidenced by his relationships with well-known physicians at the time, especially in France. One might speculate whether he or Morton were aware of such practices when searching for a method to perform anesthesia. On the use of evaporation, it should be noted that ether inhalation was largely used to treat diseases of mouth or respiratory tract until the mid-19th century.4

Marc E. Gentili, MD, PhD

Department of Anesthesia

and Intensive Care

Centre Hospitalier Privé


Saint-Grégoire, France

Francis Bonnet, MD, PhD

Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care

CHU Tenon

Paris, France

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1. Haridas RP, Mifflin JA. Researches regarding the Morton ether inhaler at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Anesth Analg. 2013;117:1230–5
2. Haridas RP, Bause GS. Correspondence by Charles T. Jackson containing the earliest known illustrations of a Morton ether inhaler. Anesth Analg. 2013;117:1236–40
3. Juvin P, Desmonts JM. The ancestors of inhalational anesthesia: the Soporific Sponges (XIth-XVIIth centuries): how a universally recommended medical technique was abruptly discarded. Anesthesiology. 2000;93:265–9
4. Ford WW. Ether inhalers in early use. N Engl J Med. 1946;234:713–26
© 2014 International Anesthesia Research Society