August Bier - Spinal Anesthesia

Spinal Anesthesia

On 16 August 1898, Bier performed the first operation under spinal anesthesia at the Royal Surgical Hospital of the University of Kiel. The subject was scheduled to undergo segmental resection of his left ankle, which was severely infected with tuberculosis, but he dreaded the prospect of general anesthesia because he had suffered severe adverse side effects during multiple previous operations. Therefore, Bier suggested "cocainization" of the spinal cord as an alternative to general anesthesia. Bier injected 15 mg of cocaine intrathecally, which was sufficient to allow him to perform the operation. The subject was fully conscious during the operation, but felt no pain. Two hours after the operation, the subject complained of nausea, vomiting, severe headache, and pain in his back and ankle. The vomiting, back and leg pain improved by the following day, but the headache was still present. Bier performed spinal anesthetics on five more subjects for lower extremity surgery, using a similar technique and achieving similar results.

After this series of six subjects, Bier was to receive a spinal anesthetic administered by his assistant, August Hildebrandt. Unfortunately, although Hildebrandt placed the spinal needle correctly, with cerebrospinal fluid flowing freely from it, the syringe was only then discovered to not fit into the hub of the needle. During the efforts to fit the syringe into the hub of the needle, a great deal of cerebrospinal fluid escaped, most of the cocaine to be injected was lost, and the spinal anesthetic was consequently a complete failure. After this experiment — and later that same evening — Bier performed a cocaine spinal anesthetic on Hildebrandt. After the injection, Hildebrandt was temporarily unable to move or feel any sensation in his legs. The profound analgesia of his legs was demonstrated with repeated kicks to his shins, which however, soon regained their sensation. Later that evening, they celebrated their success with wine and cigars. Like all of Bier's previous experimental subjects, Bier and Hildebrandt both experienced severe post-spinal headaches. Hildebrandt's symptoms lasted about four days, while Bier remained confined to bed for nine days.

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