This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
We know furthermore, as more positive, that tissues placed in an atmosphere of oxygen will set free carbonic acid, and that carbonic acid has a paralyzing effect upon the human hand held in it for a short time. The direct and speedy effects of this acid upon the delicate nervous element of the brain is so well known that it must be accepted as law. One of the most marked effects is the suspension of locomotion of the legs and arms, and the direct loss of will power which must supervene before voluntary muscular inactivity, which amounts to partial paralysis in the hands or feet, or peripheral extremities of the same.
Now that we have sufficient evidence from the authorities that carbonic acid can be retained in the blood by excessive breathing, and enough to seriously affect the brain, and what its effects are when taken directly into the lungs in excess, we can enter upon what I have held as the most reasonable theory of the phenomenon produced by rapid breathing for analgesic purposes; which theory was not first conceived and the process made to yield to it, but the phenomenon was long observed, and from the repetition of the effects and their close relationship to that of carbonic acid on the economy, with the many experiments performed upon myself, I am convinced that what I shall now state will be found to substantiate my discovery. Should it not be found to coincide with what some may say is physiological truth, it will not invalidate the discovery itself; for of that I am far more positive than Harvey was of the discovery of the circulation of the blood; or of Galileo of the spherical shape of the earth. And I ask that it shall not be judged by my theory, but from the practice.
It should have as much chance for investigation as the theory of Julius Robert Mayer, upon which he founded, or which gave rise to the establishment of one of the most important scientific truths--"the conservation of energy," and finally the "correlation of forces," which theory I am not quite sure was correct, although it was accepted, and as yet, I have not seen it questioned.
In all due respect to him I quote it from the sketch of that remarkable man, as given in the Popular Science Monthly, as specially bearing on my discovery:
"Mayer observed while living in Java, that the venous blood of some of his patients had a singularly bright red color. The observation riveted his attention; he reasoned upon it, and came to the conclusion that the brightness of the color was due to the fact that a less amount of oxidation was sufficient to keep up the temperature of the body in a hot climate than a cold one. The darkness of the venous blood he regarded as the visible sign of the energy of the oxidation."
My observation leads me to the contrary, that the higher the temperature the more rapid the breathing to get clear of the excess of carbon, and hence more oxygenation of the blood which will arterialize the venous blood, unless there is a large amount of carbonized matter from the tissues to be taken up.
Nor must it be denied because of the reasoning as presented to my mind by some outside influence in my soliloquy when I first exclaimed, "Nature's anaesthetic," where the argument as to the effects of nitrous oxide gas being due to an excess of oxygen was urged, and that common air breathed in excess would do the same thing.
I am not sure that it was correct, for the effects of nitrous oxide is, perhaps, due to a deprivation of mechanically mixed air.
Knowing what I do of theory and practice, I can say with assurance that there is not a medical practitioner who would long ponder in any urgent case as to the thousand and one theories of the action of remedies; but would resort to the practical experience of others and his own finally. (What surgeon ever stops to ask how narcotics effect their influence?) After nearly thirty years of association with ether and chloroform, who can positively answer as to their modus operandi? It is thus with nearly the whole domain of medicine. It is not yet, by far, among the sciences, with immutable laws, such as we have in chemistry. Experimentation is giving us more specific knowledge, and "practice alone has tended to make perfect." (Then, gentlemen will not set at naught my assertion and practical results. When I have stated my case in full it is for you to disprove both the theory and practice annunciated. So far as I am concerned I am responsible for both.)
You will please bear with me for a few minutes in my attempt at theory.
The annulling of pain, and, in some cases, its complete annihilation, can be accomplished in many ways. Narcotics, anaesthetics--local and internal--direct action of cold, and mesmeric or physiological influence, have all their advocates, and each will surely do its work. There is one thing about which, I think, we can all agree, as to these agencies; unless the will is partially and in some cases completely subjugated there can be no primary or secondary effect. The voluntary muscles must become wholly or partially paralyzed for the time. Telegraphic communication must be cut off from the brain, that there be no reflex action. It is not necessary there should be separate nerves to convey pleasure and pain any more than there should be two telegraphic wires to convey two messages.
If, then, we are certain of this, it matters little as to whether it was done by corpuscular poisoning and anaemia as from chloroform or hyperaemia from ether.