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In the days before anesthesia, the prospect of having to go under the knife was far more horrific than the affliction the procedure was supposed to cure. Without the means to render the patient unconscious, surgeons administered opium or liquor in a vain attempt to numb the pain, but many patients mercifully passed out halfway through the process. Anybody who didn’t had to endure the physical pain as well as the mental trauma of watching their own operation. Even if the patient did survive the surgery, there was still the risk of infection as knowledge about microorganisms and hygiene were nonexistent in those times.

Frances Burney, also known as Fanny Burney, an 18th-century English novelist, leaves us a harrowing account of her own surgery that she underwent without the benefit of anesthesia to remove a tumor from her breast. The wealth of detail in her riveting narrative and the calmness with she relays the horrors makes it one of the most powerful and courageous work of literature that’s almost too painful to read.

fanny burney


© Amusing Planet, 2019.



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