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Post James Esdalie
on: July 11, 2011, 18:30
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James Esdalie

Dr. James Esdaile probably performed more surgical operations under hypnoanesthesia than any physician up until the present time. He was a man of extreme ingenuity and intelligence who practiced most of his life in India, and is probably better known for his work in hypnosis than any other man with the possible exception of Mesmer himself. He was born February 6, 1808, the son a minister, and like Elliotson and Braid studied at Edinburgh where he graduated in 1830, obtaining a position with the East India Company.

Esdaile did his first operation under hypnosis on April 4, 1845, on a Hindu convict with double hydrocele, at the native hospital at Hooghly. After accomplishing 75 operations under hypnoanesthesia he wrote to the medical board; but his letter was not even acknowledged. Later, at the end of the year, having over a hundred operations to his credit, he then contacted Sir Herbert Maddock, then the deputy governor of Bengal, who appointed a committee of investigation composed primarily of physicians.

On receiving their favorable report, the Governor then placed Esdaile in charge of a small experimental hospital near Calcutta, in order that he might continue his research into hypnosis for whatever values it might have. Esdaile began his research in November of 1846, with the following physicians appointed to help him: R. Thompson, M.D., D. Stuart, M.D., J. Jackson, F.R.C.S., F Mouatt, M.D., R. O'Shaughnessy, F.R.C.S.; and at the end of the trial year of Esdaile's experimental works, he had 133 more operations to his credit, and a goodly number of medical cases as well. The reports by visitors to the institution continued to be favorable, and therefore, with the deputy governor's continued support, Esdaile was then appointed to Sarkea's Lane Hospital and Dispensary to continue his work and expand it to other fields of medicine.

Esdaile's fame spread far and wide, and he once stated truthfully that he did more operations on scrotal tumors in one month than took place in all the hospitals in Calcutta in a year. Some local physicians who felt that his patients were hysterical criticized him in the medical journals. Esdaile's comment on this was that his own report of the cases was still worthy of mention if only as an example of an epidemic of insanity. His sense of humor stayed with him until he left India in 1851. When he left, he had thousands of painless operations to his credit, and over 300 major operations all done under Mesmerism. While he was in India, chloroform was first introduced as an anesthesia and later after he left India, a prize of $10,000 was offered in 1853 to the discoverer of the anesthetic properties of ether, which was described as the earliest anesthetic. Esdaile sent an indignant letter of protest about this, drawing attention to the fact that he had performed painless surgery under Mesmerism for years before anyone had ever heard of ether. (For that matter, chloroform preceded ether in any case.)

Disgusted with India and "caring not a straw" about a big practice in Calcutta, Esdaile returned to Perth, the home of his father, where he settled and remained until he developed an illness of the lungs (tuberculosis?), and moved from Scotland to Sydenham, where he died at the age of 50 on January 10, 1859. His works were many, but perhaps his most famous work was a book originally titled, Mesmerism in India, and later released under the title of Hypnosis in Medicine and Surgery. In this particular book, he not only reported 73 painless operations, but also reported 18 medical cases of palsy, lumbago, sciatica, convulsions, and tic-douloureux, in addition to informing the public on hypnosis. He lashed out at the stupidity of some medical men who were blind to any new ideas; quoting in Latin, "Stare super vias Antiquas" to describe such medical men. He further went on to say that as a lover of truth for its own sake, he was very little gratified by being told by his friends, "I believe because you say so." He felt this was a barren belief, and constantly searched out physicians to prove his newfound medical tool to them. Jacob Conn, M.D. of the John Hopkins Medical School faculty has stated that no one has worked more diligently to bring the value of hypnotic analgesia and anesthesia to the attention of the medical profession than James Esdaile. Esdaile's work evidently paid off, as the British Medical Association reported favorably in 1891 that "As a therapeutic agent, hypnotism is frequently effective in relieving pain, procuring sleep and alleviating many functional ailments."

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