BLTC Research logo

Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau
(1795 - 1867)

picture of Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau

"The escape from pain in surgical operations is a chimera...
'Knife' and 'pain' in surgery are words which are
always inseparable in the minds of patients"

(Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau, 1839)

In Greek mythology, the chimera was a fire-breathing creature with a lion’s head and foreparts, a goat’s middle, a dragon’s rear, and a tail in the form of a snake. The utopian vision of pain-free surgery was more attractive to our suffering ancestors than a mythological beast; but in the early 19th century, its prospect seemed no less fantastical. Excruciating and sometimes chronic pain was a fixture of earthly life - which in any case tended to be nasty, brutish and short. Among physicians, the illustrious Paris surgeon Velpeau and the great majority of his contemporaries found the notion of pain-free surgery fanciful. Within a few years, they were confounded. Today use of anaesthetics and analgesics is routine in surgical medicine, though much scope for progress remains.

Early in the 21st century, conventional medical wisdom remains scornful or dismissive of future technologies to eradicate the less obviously somatic forms of pain. Yet their chimerical nature is unclear; and their ethical advantages compelling.


Utopian Surgery
Refs and Further Reading
Anaesthesia and Anaesthetics