"Ether Dome," a drama being staged at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, focuses on the first demonstration of ether as a medical anesthetic.
A painting unveiled during Mass General's 2001 Ether Day celebration, commemorates the 1846 medical milestone.
A painting unveiled during Mass General’s 2001 Ether Day celebration commemorates the 1846 medical milestone.

One of the cornerstones of Massachusetts General Hospital’s history of medical discovery and innovation is the focus of “Ether Dome,” a medical drama being staged by Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company through Nov. 23, 2014. The play explores events surrounding the first public demonstration of ether as a medical anesthetic, which occurred in Mass General’s historic Ether Dome on Oct. 16, 1846.

The Huntington describes the play, which is partially set at Mass General, as a “provocative medical thriller” that examines how a “new treatment promising to end pain pits a doctor and his student in an epic battle between altruism and ambition.” The play was written by Elizabeth Egloff.

A review by WBUR radio, Boston, said that seeing the production “may help you figure out who to thank the next time you settle into a dentist’s chair without straps or wake from surgery realizing you didn’t feel a thing.”

Sparking a Surgical Revolution

On Oct. 16, 1846, Boston dentist William Thomas Green Morton administered diethyl-ether vapors to patient Gilbert Abbott in front of a crowd gathered at the Mass General operating room now known as the Ether Dome. When Mr. Morton placed the mouthpiece of a newly-created apparatus to Mr. Abbott’s lips, he told him to breathe deeply and slowly. Within a few minutes, the patient had fallen into a sleep-like state and an operation on his neck proceeded.

Mass General’s modern Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine traces its roots back to the 1846 medical milestone, which sparked a worldwide revolution in surgery.