, Derry, New Hampshire


February 13, 2014

Column: Thankfully, doctors' instruments have improved over the years

When Carol and I were young marrieds, we looked for a house near to schools; now five decades later, we probable should find one near to doctors. With every passing year we spend more and more quality time with Drs. Brooks, Banister, Stagnone and Wood. I see then so often I now usually call them Ted, Charlie, Mark and Sarah. I know they’re all excellent medicos but when I was a boy Dr. Moore of Hampstead would make house calls. But I suppose now doctors have too much diagnostic equipment to conveniently fit into a physician’s black bag.

Such ruminating led me to check in my files to find when “modern” medical equipment first came into our town. In 1846, the modern use of ether as an anesthetic was first demonstrated in Boston by Dr. William Morton. Before that time, amputations were performed by getting the patient drunk on alcohol or stoned on opiates. The earliest use of an anesthetic in Derry seems to have been in 1885 when Dr. Henry Newell set up the “necessary apparatus” to administrate nitrous oxide -- laughing gas -- for minor surgery.

Dr. Alexander Wark, whose office was at the Odd Fellows Building, which is the site of today’s Cumberland Farm store, was the first local dentist to use modern-style anesthesia. Before this they used cocaine for painful procedures. In March 1905, he was advertising painless extraction of teeth by the use of an inhalant called “Airform.” This wonder-stuff, unlike ether, didn’t knock out the patent but just rendered him “insensible to pain.” That month thanks to Airform, Doc Wark removed 29 teeth in a single day without a single complaint. This was likely an early version of the Novocain that would be used by America’s dentists from 1905 through the 1980s.

Also in March 1905, a rival dentist, Dr. Wallace Nichols, announced that he, too, was modernizing his Derry dental office. He was perhaps the first local to install electrical equipment for “cleaning and burnishing teeth.” He was also likely our first dentist to use electrical power and get rid of the foot-powered drills when working on cavities.

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