Legendary Hwa Tuo's surgery under general anesthesia
in the second century China

by
Chu NS.
Department of Neurology,
Chang Gung Memorial Hospital,
Linkou Medical Center, Taoyuan, Taiwan.
chu060@cgmh.org.tw
Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2004 Dec;13(4):211-6.


ABSTRACT

In traditional Chinese medicine, Hwa Tuo (110 ? - 208 A.D.) is one of the most famous doctors. He used only few herbs in drug treatment or applied few points in acupuncture, and achieved excellent results. His ultimate fame came from his remarkable surgical skills and his discovery of general anesthesia. According to the Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms (ca. 270 A.D.) and the Annals of the Later Han Dynasty (ca. 430 A.D.), Hwa Tuo performed operations under general anesthesia and the operations even included major ones such as dissection of gangrenous intestines. Before the surgery, he gave patient an anesthetic to drink to become drunk, numb and insensible. The anesthetic was called " foamy narcotic powder" and probably dissolved in wine. Because Confucian teachings regarded the body sacred, surgery as a form of body mutilation was not encouraged, or even became a taboo. Despite his great achievement, practice of surgery could hardly take off and the death of Hwa Tuo marked the end of Chinese surgery. Unfortunately, the composition of the anesthetic powder was not mentioned in those two books or other Chinese medical writings. The herb has been thought to be datura flower, aconite root, rhododendron flower, or jasmine root. Furthermore, Hwa Tuo's operations under general anesthesia were not described in details. Therefore, his remarkable achievement needs to be further documented. In Western medicine, the first operation under general anesthesia occurred at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846 when William Morton demonstrated the effectiveness of ether. How could Hwa Tuo accomplish such scientific achievement in the second century has remained a mystery. Even so, it seems quite remarkable that Hwa Tuo had come up with the idea of performing surgery under general anesthesia using the "foamy narcotic powder".
People
Hwa Tuo
Anaesthesia
Horace Wells
William Morton
Seishu Hanaoka
John Collins Warren
Obstetric anesthesia
Molecular mechanisms
Chloroform anaesthesia
'The secularisation of pain'
Crawford Williamson Long
Anaesthesia/16th October 1846



Refs
and further reading

general-anaesthesia.com
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