A Brief Note From 1908 About “Electric Sleep”

2 Screen Shot 2012 10 09 at 7.41.34 PM A Brief Note From 1908 About “Electric Sleep”

In the early years of automobiles, electric models were favored, and even steam-driven cars were predominant over models powered by fossil fuels. Things change. Ultimately, the internal-combustion engine proved more stable and became the king of the road.

Interestingly, electricity had a chance to make inroads in another area in which gases had proven to be unstable: anesthesia. In the nascent years of the practice, miscalculations with ether and chloroform led to deaths. No one wanted to go back to the brutality of surgery during consciousness, but there had to be a better way. Enter Dr. Louise G. Rabinovitch, who experimented successfully (and chillingly and unethically, often) with bringing a blissful unconsciousness to animal and human test subjects with electric shock. A better understanding of anesthesia made this jolting scheme unnecessary, but the doctor’s jaw-dropping reports of her experiments likely would have prevented her methods from becoming popular in any case. From an article about “electric sleep” in the September 27, 1908 New York Times:

PARIS–Dr. Louise G. Rabinovitch, the well-known New York psychoclacist, and Dr. V. Magnan are preparing another stop in their series of discoveries in electric sleep experiments, which have been safely conducted on rabbits and dogs, will be made soon on human beings, patients in the insane hospital in Paris.

Dr. Rabinovitch has been conducting her experiments with hopes of finding the means of doing away entirely with the usual anaesthetics–ether and chloroform–and so far has been very successful.

The City of Paris early in the Summer fitted up a laboratory for the hospital of Sainte-Anne, and there she has been working steadily. Already she has put a patient to sleep by electricity without performing an operation. She has also in several cases used electricity as a local anaesthetic on a part of the arm or leg and has performed a slight operation. Her intention now is, in which she is encouraged by the veteran Dr. Magnan, to perform a serious operation made under the influence of electric sleep. This will be the first time that this has been done anywhere in the world.

Dr. Rabinovitch has made some remarkable discoveries while she has been working in her laboratory, and finds no difficulty in instilling life into animals which have died on the operating table. The immense value of this discovery to physicians when patients die because of an anaesthetic can be seen at once.

One dog playing about the laboratory, the doctor told me, had been dead three times. “While under the influence of electric sleep I killed her instantly with chloroform. The heart stopped beating and respiration ceased. If the animal had been left alone then it would have remained dead, but I immediately instituted artificial respiration by means of electricity, and presently the animal started to breathe of its own accord. Again, after I had killed the dog and resuscitated it, hemorrhage set in, caused by an operation, and the dog bled to death. I brought it back to life again. The animal is at present perfectly healthy.”•

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