KSL: The Beginning of the Miracle of Anesthesia



Script of a statewide radio play, broadcast from Station KSL (C.B.S. 
affiliate) at the conclusion of a joint dinner-meeting of the Utah State 
Dental and Medical Associations, Hotel Utah, Salt Lake City, December 11, 
1944 ...

Member of the Staff, Radio Station KSL, Salt Lake City, Utah


Girl (FEARFULLY): Doctor -- I'm frightened!

Physician (GENTLY): I know. But please believe me, there's nothing for you to 
be frightened about.

Girl: But are you _sure_ that I won't feel any pain? That I won't suffer?

Physician: I give you my promise you won't. You see, you'll be asleep. You 
won't feel anything. That's the wonderful part about anesthesia. It deadens 
all feeling -- all pain. When you wake up it will all be over and you'll get 
well. Think of that! You'll get well! -- and now, breathe deeply and don't be 
afraid. Just be thankful -- grateful -- that you're living in a time when this 
miracle has been made available to us all! Nurse -- the anesthetic, please!


Announcer: "Just be grateful that you're living in a time when the _miracle_ 
_of_ _anesthesia_ has been made available to us all!" . . . Words of great 
import indeed, for, up to the middle of the nineteenth century, surgery -- 
including extraction of teeth -- was accomplished without the blessing of 
anesthesia, and many people died rather than submit to the pain necessitated 
by such an experience! Tonight, the Utah State Dental and Medical Associations 
commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of anesthesia by 
Dr. Horace Wells, a young dentist of Hartford, Connecticut -- and bring you 
the story of how that discovery was made. Horace Wells was a sensitive and 
compassionate man and, because the suffering he caused when extracting teeth 
troubled him greatly, he was constantly occupied with the thought of 
discovering some way to alleviate pain. A colleague, Dr. John M. Riggs, 
dropping into Wells' office early one evening of December in 1844, found his 
friend staring gloomily out of the window -- as though trying to find, in the 
gathering storm of the winter night, some solace for his burdened heart.


John: It's I, Horace. I saw your light on when I was locking up, so I knew you 
hadn't gone yet. Working rather late, aren't you?

Horace (FADES IN; GLOOMILY): Yes -- I just finished a difficult extraction. A 
young girl. It was pretty bad. You must have heard her scream.

John (SHORT LAUGH): Guess I was too busy listening to the groans and moans of 
my own patients. (WEARILY): It's a gruelling business we've chosen as our life 
profession, Horace.

Horace: Yes. (DEEP BREATH): And I'd better forget it and get on home. 
Elizabeth will be waiting dinner and we're going to see the exhibition that 
man, Colton, is giving tonight at Union Hall.

John: Oh, you mean the chap who gives laughing gas to his subjects and 
guarantees that onlookers will be highly entertained by what goes on after the 
gas has been administered?

Horace: That's the one.

John: I heard Doc Barnby talking about this Colton only yesterday, Horace. Doc 
saw the exhibition in Philadelphia and he said one fellow wanted to fight 
everybody in sight after he'd taken the gas! Colton keeps eight unusually 
strong men in the front row, to protect those under the influence of the gas 
from harming themselves or anyone else. It should be quite a show. Wish I 
could go along but I've another appointment.

Horace (SLOWLY): John -- I wonder if it's really true that the subjects don't 
know what they're doing when they've been given the gas. Colton advertises the 
entertainment as "scientific" to those who "make it scientific." I wonder if 
the gas really renders an individual immune to certain normal feelings.

John (LAUGHS): Maybe you can tell _me_ after you've seen the exhibition! Fact 
is, I'll be interested, no end, to learn what you think of the whole thing. 
Colton says the gas gives one a "delightful sensation." (LAUGHS AGAIN): Let me 
know what you think about it tomorrow. I'll drop in and you can tell me all 
about it!


Elizabeth (CLOSE, LOW): Look, Horace -- there are some young men coming on 
stage now -- and there's Mr. Colton -- the show must be going to start!

Horace: Yes -- Colton's walking to the front of the stage and holding up his 
hand for silence.


Colton (OFF MIKE): Ladies and Gentlemen! We are about to begin our 
demonstration of the effects produced by _laughing_ _gas_! (AD LIBS, SOME 
EXCITEMENT; THEN): These twelve young men you see here on the stage have 
volunteered their services and, one by one, they will inhale the gas. The 
effect of the gas is to make those who inhale it, laugh, sing, dance and, I 
might add -- even fight! (AD LIBS, EXCITEMENT; THEN): However, no one will be 
harmed, as we have guards posted throughout the hall who will take care of -- 
er -- whatever commotion may ensue! The men chosen for this demonstration were 
selected for their respectability, as it is our object to keep the 
entertainment in every respect a genteel affair! And now -- my assistant and I 
will administer the laughing gas to Mr. Sam Cooley!

Elizabeth (REPRESSED EXCITEMENT): Horace -- I wonder if we should have come? 
You can't tell what might happen when those men are under the influence of 
that awful stuff!

Horace (RAPTLY): Shhh -- don't talk, Elizabeth. I want to watch everything 
Colton is doing! First he puts that bag in which the gas is held on Cooley's 
lap -- and now Cooley's placing the little tube in his mouth -- and breathing 
in, heavily.

Elizabeth: I don't like it, Horace! What if-- 

Horace (GOES ON, UNHEARING): Look, Elizabeth, look! He -- he's relaxing -- the 
tube would have dropped from his mouth if Colton hadn't held it there! His 
arms are dropping to his sides -- now the tube has been taken from Cooley's 
mouth and he's getting up.

Elizabeth (ALMOST IN TEARS): And that dreadful man is going on to the next one 
and giving the gas to _him_!

Horace (ODDLY): Elizabeth -- look at Cooley! He's stumblinig around the stage 
-- as if -- as if he were drunk!


Horace (CLOSE): He must have hurt his shin then, when he scraped against that 
heavy bench. (SLOWLY): And yet, he seems not to feel -- _anything_! He -- 
seems -- not to feel -- anything!


Elizabeth: It's Cooley, Horace -- he's coming down the steps and he's starting 
to run around the hall, swinging his arms as though he is trying to hit 

Colton (OFF MIKE): Joe! Grab Cooley there and make him sit down! It's all 
right, Ladies and Gentlemen! Everything is all right! No one will be hurt. We 
have our guards to take care of these men. You see? Joe, there, has Mister 
Cooley well under control! Just remain in your seats and enjoy the show! 
Witness, Ladies and Gentlemen, the effects of the laughing gas on William 
Harkney, here! William finds something very funny, very funny -- but _what_? 
Your guess is as good as mine, Ladies and Gentlemen! (LAUGHS UPROARIOUSLY.)

Elizabeth: Horace -- where are you going?

Horace: I want to talk to that man, Samuel Cooley. I'll be back in a few 
minutes, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Horace -- don't leave me alone here.

Horace: I'm just going over there by the wall where Cooley's sitting. (FADES): 
I'll be right back. (SOUNDS OF VOICES, ETC. THRU; THEN FADES IN): Mr. Cooley 
-- are you all right? My name is Horace Wells. I wondered if you injured 
yourself when you ran into that bench a few moments ago. You seemed to strike 
your ankle and leg very hard.

Cooley (A LITTLE DAZED): Well -- now that you speak of it, Mr. Wells, my shin 
does hurt -- and yet I don't remember striking the bench. (LAUGHS RUEFULLY): 
Guess I did, all right -- look at that! Cut it, by golly -- hard enough to 
draw the blood! Well -- what d'you know about that! I swear I didn't feel it 
when I struck the bench!

Horace: That's what puzzles me. (ODDLY): I'm sure you didn't feel it because 
you gave no evidence of experiencing any pain whatever! (SLOWLY): It's very 
interesting, Mr. Cooley -- tell me, what were your sensations as you inhaled 
the gas?

Cooley: Well -- I don't think I can quite explain. It wasn't unpleasant at 
all. As a matter of fact, it was far from unpleasant. All I remember is 
breathing in deep -- and the next thing I was out -- just like that. Kinda 
like I was in a dream. (LAUGHS SHEEPISHLY): Then I got up -- and began making 
a fool of myself, I guess. I wasn't conscious exactly of what I was doing. I 
_knew_ I was moving and trying to catch somebody -- or so it seemed -- and I 
knew people were laughing at me -- but it didn't seem to matter! Say! Why 
don't you try the gas? Colton'll give it to anybody who wants to take it! Why 
don't you try it yourself?

Horace: I think I will. . . . (SLOWLY): Yes, I'm quite sure I will. But in my 
own way. In -- my -- own -- way!


Horace (FADES IN, EXCITED): I've got it, John -- I've got the supply of gas! 
Colton and Cooley will be up here at my office in just a few minutes to watch 
you extract the tooth we've decided you shall take out to prove what the gas 
will do! Meanwhile, let's get everything ready.

John: Horace, are you sure you're being wise, insisting on taking _more_ of 
the gas than Colton gave to his subjects?

Horace: Yes! I want you to do just exactly what I've told you. We went all 
over the whole thing. You aren't going to back out now, John?

John: No-o, but what if something should go wrong? What if I gave you too 

Horace: Let me tell you once again, John. I'll hold the bag of gas on my lap 
and place the tube in my mouth and inhale. In a moment or two my muscles will 
relax, the tube will fall from my mouth, and my head will fall down on my 
chest. At that point you are to insert the tube between my lips again and 
leave it there -- timing, by your watch -- exactly two minutes.

John: They'll be the longest two minutes I'll ever spend, I wager!

Horace: You _must_ _do_ _exactly_ as I ask! Unless you give me _enough_ of the 
gas, I won't become completely unconscious! That's what I want to assure -- I 
_want_ _to_ _lose_ _all_ _consciousness_!

John: And that's what I'm afraid of! That you will -- and not regain 
consciousness afterwards, Horace!

Horace: Do as I ask, will you, John? And stop worrying! Now -- clean towels 
and some warm water -- my forceps -- and you're sure you know which tooth I 
decided to have you extract, John?

John (MISERABLY): Yes, I know which tooth -- and that's another thing: losing 
a perfectly good tooth just to make this test!

Horace (INTENSELY): I must know whether I can feel pain, John, under the 
influence of the gas! I _must_ -- KNOW! If it will do what I think it will, 
I'll not feel the pain of the extraction and the loss of a tooth is little 
enough to pay for that knowledge.


Horace: Oh, come in Mr. Colton -- Mr. Cooley. We're all ready to make the 

Colton (OFF MIKE): In that case, Dr. Wells, Sam and I will stand right here by 
the door! (SHORT LAUGH): Ready to run just in case you start anything, eh, 

Horace: Very well. But I won't start anything, I promise you. All right, John 
-- I'm ready if you are.

John: Horace-- 

Horace: If you're ready, John -- I'm ready too! I'll sit in the chair -- so -- 
and place the gas-bag here -- and -- (MUFFLED NOW): take the tube in my mouth. 
All -- right -- John -- this is it! ...


Colton (OFF MIKE): Say, ain't you going to pull that tooth and get it over 

John: Not yet. I'm timing the gas, as Doctor Wells requested.

Colton: But you're giving him too much of the stuff! You're giving him too 

John: I'm giving him the amount in the time to which we agreed!

Colton: Well, I hope you know what you're doing, young feller! Look -- he's 
relaxed now -- his arms have fallen to his sides and his head -- you mean -- 
you mean you're going to give him _more_ of the gas!

John: Yes -- for another thirty seconds!

Cooley (OFF MIKE ALSO): But you don't know how much a man can stand of that -- 
it may kill him, Dr. Riggs! And by the way, just what IS that gas, anyway, 

Colton: It's nitrous-oxide gas -- harmless enough -- (POINTEDLY) -- _if_ you 
know what you're doing, using it.

John (A LITTLE BREATHLESS): Now -- I'm going to pull the tooth now!

Colton (A LITTLE IRRITABLY): For my part, I can't see what Wells was thinking 
of to let you give him so much of the stuff -- tooth or no tooth! Take it from 
me, I've been monkeying with that gas for months and I wouldn't be the one to 
try it too far! What some men won't risk, just to experiment! Well, there's 
one thing, Riggs, if -- if anything does happen, you got me an' Cooley here to 
testify that Dr. Wells took the gas of his own accord! Yes, sir, you got us to 
testify that it was all his own idea -- and what an idea, I must say!

John (SWIFTLY): There -- the tooth's out! Now -- how long should it take him 
to come to?

Colton (SNORTS): You're asking _me_? Your guess is as good as mine -- why -- 
the amount you gave him, anything could happen!

John (ANXIOUSLY): Does -- does he -- look all right to you? He isn't moving -- 
doesn't make any attempt to move -- but he's breathing and his pulse is 
strong, thank heavens! .

Colton (MOVES IN CLOSER): He's out deader'n a doornail. Look at that -- (LIGHT 
THUD): Ain't got no more use in his arms than a bag of sawdust!

John: Perhaps we should put compresses on his head -- bathe his face and hands 
-- try smelling salts.

Cooley (OFF MIKE): I'll fetch some water, Dr. Riggs, it might be a good idea.

John: Start rubbing his wrists, Mr. Colton! (PANICKY NOW): His pulse still 
good -- and look -- a little color's coming back into his face! Horace! 
Horace, can you hear me? Horace -- it's John -- can you hear me? Are you all 

Cooley: I'll put this wet towel on his head, Dr. Riggs.


John: He's coming to. Oh, thank God, he's coming to! Horace are you all right? 
How do you feel? It's John, Horace, are you all right?

Horace (GROGGILY): John -- the tooth -- ?

John (LAUGHS; RELIEF IN NERVOUS TENSION): Oh, I got that, all right -- it's 
you we've been worried about! You didn't move a muscle -- you were just as 
though you were dead!

Horace: You -- extracted -- the tooth -- John?

John: Sure! Here it is! Believe me, now?

Horace (RALLYING): I didn't -- feel a thing, John! I didn't feel -- a single 
sensation of pain -- nothing at all! (THEN STRONGER): Do you realize what that 
means? _I_ _didn_'t _feel_ _anything_ -- _no_ _pain_ -- _nothing_!

Colton (GRIMLY): Well, you shouldn't have, Lord knows. Riggs, here, gave you 
enough gas to kill an ox! You must be crazy, man, talcing chances like that!

Horace: But you don't understand, Mr. Colton! I'_ve_ _made_ a _discovery_! 
I've found something, AT LAST, that will render a person insensible to PAIN! 
Think what that means! Just try to comprehend what it will mean to those who 
have, up to now, suffered untold agonies in this chair -- and in the chairs in 
other dental offices -- and on the operating table when surgery was necessary! 
(DEEPLY, STRONG): We must tell everyone about it who has need of it -- give it 
to the world of pain and suffering!

John: You mean -- you mean you won't patent the discovery, Horace?

Horace: Patent it, John? "_Why_ _no_, my friend! _No_! _Let_ _it_ _be_ _as_ 
_free_ _as_ _the_ _air_ _we_ _breathe_!"


Announcer: Like many another pioneer in the field of discovery, Horace Wells 
was to know his share of humiliation and personal abuse. The great blessing he 
wanted to give to everyone -- "as free as the air we breathe" -- brought him 
recriminations, insults and great disappointment on many sides. Finally, 
another doctor claimed credit for the discovery of anesthesia, and in the 
years that followed, Dr. Wells was to experience disgrace, harassment, and 
finally go to his grave after an inglorious death. . . . But those who came 
after him lived to benefit by his discovery and learn of his greatness; and 
today, on this December 11, 1944 -- just one hundred years after Dr. Horace 
Wells' discovery of a workable anesthetic -- America pays tribute to him as a 
benefactor of humankind, who, in "the spirit of exalted public service, saw 
his dream come true of making the human body _safely_ _insensible_ to pain" 
during surgical operations! . . . This program has been brought to you under 
the sponsorship of the Utah State Dental Association, a component of the 
American Dental Association, as part of the celebration of the _Horace_ 
_Wells_ _Centenary_ commemoration services. This is KSL. . . . Salt Lake City.