While the magic of Dr. Long made people numb to undergo painless surgery, Dr. B.C. Roy’s spell made the numbed society wake up from slumber

Two magical doctors in two different continents. Dr. Long’s ‘Ether’ numbed the surgical pain of the patient, while Dr. Roy administered a balm to soothe social injustice.

Dr. Crawford M. Long was born in 1815 at Danielsville in Georgia, U.S., got his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and practised as surgeon. The pain of the patient during surgery upset him and he wanted to find a solution — a dream of a painless surgery. For years it was known that the ‘sweet oil of vitriol’ (a mixture of ethanol and sulfuric acid) sent chickens to sleep, but no one thought of its clinical use. The credit for transformation of the ‘sweet oil of vitriol’ to ‘diethyl ether’ as an anaesthetic agent goes to Dr. Long.

On March 30, 1842, at the age of 27, he administered ‘diethyl ether’ to a patient and removed a tumour in the neck, the first-ever painless surgery. It was like sheer magic that took away the pain and anxiety of surgical procedure. But, unlike the usual magician, he never bothered about the audience. No wait for claps, no expectation of applause. Despite this stunning achievement, this medical milestone remained only a matter of scientific transaction among his colleagues.

Four years later, Dr. T. G. Morton, at Boston, Massachusetts, did the famous public demonstration of ‘Ether’ anaesthesia, earning his name as the trailblazer in the history of modern day anaesthesia. Dr. Long died in 1878, after attending to a delivery case, working till the last hours of his life. In 1990, 122 years later, President George Bush and the Senate passed a resolution appreciating his efforts, designating March 30 to be celebrated as ‘Doctors Day’ in the U.S., in remembrance of this magical doctor.

Bidhan Chandra Roy, famously known as Dr. B.C. Roy, was born at Bankipore, Patna, on July 1. Losing his mother at a young age of 14, Roy, the youngest of five siblings, wanted to become a doctor. He studied in the Presidency College, Kolkata, and later joined the Calcutta Medical College. After MBBS, he decided to pursue his studies in England. The Dean of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital rejected his application but the persistent young Roy applied and re-applied 30 times and it paid off.

He proved the Dean’s academic doubts wrong by successfully obtaining both MRCP and FRCS in less than two years and confirming his magical proficiency in surgery and medicine, an extremely rare feat. On returning to India, as he started practising medicine, his magical diagnostic skills started making waves.

The news of Dr. Roy’s quick analysis of chronic ailments and simple, affordable treatment spread, transforming the young doctor into a magical angel of health. But he was sucked into the independence struggle and he quickly realised that treating an individual patient may not cure the sufferings of society at large. The ills of society ramified much deeper than the roots of any disease.

Dr. Roy was forced to join politics where he proved that a real leader can stand tall, above the petty bickering for fame and power. He was elected to the All-India Congress Committee in 1928 and nominated to the Congress Working Committee in 1930. In 1948, when the party proposed his name for Chief Minister of West Bengal, a reluctant Roy was forced to don the mantle. Under his leadership, the transformation of West Bengal was magical. He showed that a thorough professional could as well become an able administrator, fulfilling both responsibilities if the job demanded.

Call it magic or sheer chance, Dr. B.C. Roy died the day he was born but became immortal. The nation pays its homage to this great doctor by celebrating July 1 as ‘Doctors Day’ in India.

The magic of Dr. Long made people numb to sail past the crucial hours of surgery without pain. Dr. Roy’s spell woke up a numbed society out of its slumber. Your doctor may not be as great a magician like them, but don’t forget to thank him on ‘Doctors Day’ for treating your kid for that fever or earache.

(The writer is Head, Dept. of Cardiology, PRS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. Email: tinynair@gmail.com)