In a Los Angeles hospital last week a Mrs. Maude Branton, 43, clergyman's wife, inhaled ether, oxygen and nitrous oxide as anesthetic for an operation. This mixture of gases is explosive. In Mrs. Branton's case something ignited the mixture in her lungs. The mixture exploded, the lungs burst, Mrs. Branton died. A coroner's jury decided that no one was to blame.
Last May 10 the American Medical Association published a thoroughgoing study on "the hazard of explosion of anesthetics." The report noted that "the perfect form of anesthesia, free from all dangers, has not yet been discovered." And: "The chief hazards . . . that have to be compared are fatal failure of respiration, syncope [serious fainting] and collapse, postanesthetic necrosis [decay] of the liver (chiefly from chloroform), post-operative pneumonia, persistent hiccup, flares and fires from ether, the bursting of cylinders containing any gas under pressure, and particularly cylinders of oxygen or nitrous oxide if the valve is oiled, and, finally, explosions in anesthetic apparatus in which ethylene or ether is administered."
Greatest danger is pneumonia which follows anesthesia. Least is explosion. Three to five surgical cases out of every 1,000 die of pneumonia. Only one out of every 100,000 die from explosions.
Causes of Explosions, which surgeons guard against during operations under ether or ethylene anesthesia, include sparks and intense heat from lighting, radiation, or motor equipment; cauteries; static electricity caused by shuffling feet, rubbed hair, dry woolen blankets, frictioned rubber tubing.