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[Perspectives] The history of anaesthesia and the patient—reduced to a body?

“When the dreadful steel was plunged into my breast…I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries”, writer Fanny Burney famously wrote about the mastectomy she underwent on the hands of Napoleon’s surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey on Sept 30, 1811. “I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision—& I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still! So excruciating was the agony.” This account is very different from what happened when, on Dec 21, 1846, the 36-year-old butler Frederick Churchill had his thigh amputated by Robert Liston using ether as an anaesthetic.

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