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Clover-type chloroform inhaler, London, England, 1862-1894

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Joseph Thomas Clover (1825-1882) invented this inhaler, which was used for chloroform anaesthesia, in 1862. This inhaler was never popular despite Clover demonstrating its successful use for regulating dosage – incorrect doses of chloroform proved to be lethal. Inhaling the fumes of anaesthetic was the preferred way of numbing the patient to perform painful surgical procedures. Using a syringe, 2.4 ml of liquid chloroform was injected into the chamber then heated by a vaporizer, which was attached to bellows that could pump sixteen litres of air at a time. This created a concentration of 4.5 per cent chloroform in air, enough to anaesthetise a patient within four minutes. The mixture filled a waterproof silk bag which was placed on the anaesthetist’s back so he could move around easily. The patient breathed in the vapour through a face mask.

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    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

    Glossary: inhaler

    A device for breathing in a drug in order to deliver it to the airways or lungs.

    Glossary: syringe

    An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.

    Glossary: vaporizer

    A device that turns substances into vapour or gas, especially for medicinal inhalation. The term also refers to an aid for people who are quitting smoking. (It allows them to mimic the act of smoking while reducing the harmful by-products that might otherwise be inhaled.)