William Morton

William Morton biography
Board, Ernest, 1877-1934 - Public Domain

William Morton biography

William Thomas Green Morton (August 9, 1819 – July 15, 1868). He was born in the city of Charlton, Massachusetts, United States. More known as William Morton. He grew up in a marriage of farmers, consisting of James Morton and Rebecca Morton. During his youth, William worked as a typesetter and salesman in Boston. Since his family did not have great resources, he had to work with the objective of studying at the College of Dental Surgery in Baltimore, he managed to graduate in 1840 at the age of 21 years.

Since childhood, Morton felt more interest in medicine than in dentistry. So in 1844, he decided to enter Harvard University, unfortunately, had to quit soon, motivated by the difficult economic situation of his family and his marriage with Elizabeth Whitman and the care of their two children.

William Morton continued practicing dentistry, dedicating himself to the realization and adaptation of dental prostheses in a small office of his own, to perform this process had to perform extractions of teeth, a moment that represented great difficulties due to the high pain felt by his patients, so he began to think about what chemical element might reduce pain in your patients. Returning to what he had learned in his career, Morton knew that certain gases existed that eliminated the sensitivity to pain in the organism, for this reason, he found new substances, among them, the hilarious gas composed of nitrous oxide and ether, Morton was inclined to the second. After performing several tests in his office he risked to try it.

“Doctor, your patient is ready!” William Morton – Phrase symbol of the release of pain chains

The first person in whom Morton could prove the anesthetic effects of the ether was in Eben Frost, a musician who attended his office with an energetic toothache. William gave him the ether in an inhaled form, getting the patient to be lethargic during the extraction, without feeling any pain during the procedure. Within a few hours Morton’s fame began to grow, the news was published by the Boston Daily Journal. Motivated by the finding, Morton formally requested the director of Massachusetts General Hospital, John Collins Warren, to leave a public demonstration of his discovery. On October 16, 1846, the public demonstration was carried out, the surgery was a success.

In the following years, William dictated several conferences in universities and academic spaces where he explained the use of ether in the body and its powerful anesthetic effect. In addition to that, he performed a few demonstrations among the audience. Despite this, many doubted the sedative effect of these substances, until, in November of 1846, Dr. Wendell Holmes, made a research paper and baptized these substances under the name of anesthesia.

Eager to improve the management of anesthesia more and more, he consulted with one of his former professors, Charles T. Jackson, he suggested that he use sulfuric ether, Morton studied the possibility and disguised the smell of the sulfuric ether by mixing the chemical compound aromatics, obtained as a result a compound that Morton called, Letheon, this compound worked successfully.

After these triumphs Morton made a serious mistake, he let himself be carried away by pride, preventing other doctors from using his ether anesthesia, this exposed him to strong criticism in the medical world and generated a legal battle with Charles Jackson, who he claimed to be really the discoverer of the anesthetic properties of Ether and who had advised Morton.

After twenty years of legal litigation against Jackson trying to defend the merit of the discovery of anesthesia, waste all their savings, in lawsuits, lawyers, and officials, during these years had to face several rivals in addition to Jackson, as Dr. Crawford W. Long, they both disputed Morton’s discovery of the ether as anesthesia. He continued, with the arrogance intact, determined to obtain a monetary benefit for the discovery of anesthesia.

The French Academy of Medicine decided to reward William Morton and Professor Jackson for their discovery. However, the prize of five thousand francs was rejected with great indignation by Morton. In 1849, he even asked the Congress of the United States to cancel a reward of one hundred thousand dollars for his discovery, which had no development, due to the problem over the intellectual property of the find.

Finally, defeated, Morton remained in total poverty and fell into a depressed state. He died in New York City July 15, 1869, at 49 years of age, due to a stroke. Without having obtained the patent of the anesthesia, we can not forget that both his studies and demonstrated actions opened a new chapter in the treatment of pain during surgical interventions, so he is considered one of the most influential people in medicine.

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