Monday, April 13, 2009
Aren't you glad we have anaesthesia?
Shortly after his election to the office of Prime Minister, William Pitt was discovered to have encysted tumor on his cheek that needed to be surgically removed. Surgery was always dicey in a pre-anaesthetic age. It was intensely painful and, as anyone who has seen The Madness of King George knows, 18th century medicine was often terribly detrimental to the patient.
However, Pitt had famous self-mastery and self-control. He refused to have his hands tied, as was usual during surgeries, to keep the patient from pushing away the knife or otherwise increasing the damage and pain of an already agonizing operation. He assured his surgeon, one John Hunter, that he would not move and it would therefore be unnecessary to tie his hands. Dr. Hunter informed Pitt that the surgery would take six minutes, to which Pitt had the somewhat unusal reaction of sitting down very calmly and staring out the window of 10 Downing Street at the Horse Guards' clock across the way.
He remained perfectly motionless until it was over, at which point he very cheerfully remarked, "You have exceeded your time by half a minute."