commissioned for the event. Word had
spread that something important was about
to happen, and the dome’s five tiers were
packed with medical students and doctors.
Warren, who had been about to proceed with
the operation without Morton, stepped back
and said, “Well, sir, your patient is ready.”
After three or four minutes of breathing ether
vapors, Abbott fell into a deep sleep. “Your
patient is ready, sir,” said Morton. Warren made his incision, “about three inches
long,” he recalled, “and began a dissection
among the important nerves and vessels of
the neck, without any expression of pain on
the part of the patient.” His work complete,
Warren turned to the audience and said,
“Gentlemen, this is no humbug.” Abbott,
for his part, reported that he’d experienced
no pain, though toward the end he felt a bit
of scratching. No screams, no agony, no dismay. History had been made.
In the ensuing 21 years, says Mass.
General archivist Jeffrey Mifflin, some
8,000 operations occurred under the dome,
with ether performing its miracle and the
horrors of surgery fading into memory. A
new operating theater opened elsewhere in
the hospital in 1867, and the dome became
a nurse’s dormitory and eventually a storeroom. Its historic significance wasn’t recognized until 1896, the 50th anniversary
of Ether Day, and the hospital preserved
the dome’s tiers of wooden benches until
the 1930s, when steel seats replaced them.
The room was declared a National Historic
Landmark in 1965. The wooden dome, with
its magnificent north-facing skylight, was
replicated in steel and copper in 1996.
Open to the public when not in use for
faculty meetings, the dome is a sort of medical history museum with a skeleton and an
Egyptian mummy, fixtures since its earliest days, along with a display of surgical
instruments and a portrayal of the 1846
operation, painted in 2000 by Southbor-ough, Massachusetts, artists Warren and
Lucia Prosperi with current doctors and
staff in period costume, courtesy of the
performing arts department of Boston’s
Emerson College, posing as their 19th-cen-
tury colleagues. Look closely and, in the
calmness of Gilbert Abbott, you will see the
dawn of a new age.
The Ether Dome at Mass. General, Bulfinch
Building, 55 Fruit Street, Boston; massgeneral.
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