Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sebastian's London: The Old Operating Theatre, St. Thomas's Hospital

Readers of the Sebastian St. Cyr series know that Paul Gibson serves as a surgeon at both St. Thomas's and St. Bartholomew's Hospitals in London. St. Bartholomew's still exists at Smithfield, but St. Thomas's moved from its original site in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames near London Bridge, in the Victorian period. Most of the hospital's buildings disappeared long ago. But one of St. Thomas's old operating theatres is still there and has been turned into a fascinating, small, hard to find, and vaguely disturbing little museum.

Once the operating theater for St. Thomas's women's ward, it is rather bizarrely sited in the attic of the old church (which is why it survived, hidden away). It actually dates to slightly later than our period--1822--but the conditions here were much as they had been for hundreds of years. The concept of antiseptic surgery was still decades away. So were anesthetics. Women were blindfolded before being brought in for their operations--presumably so they wouldn't see the watching students packed in the surrounding stands like "herrings in a barrel." Light was provided by a large overhead skylight. Most surgeries were amputations; a skilled surgeon like Gibson could cut off a leg in less than a minute, but without anesthetics it would still have been a nightmare.

Note the box of sand under the table to catch the blood.

If you're interested, the museum has a small website you can visit here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:39 AM  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

When Charles Darwin first witnessed a surgery in such a theater he nearly passed out and had to leave. That's when he decided that medicine wasn't for him.

11:26 AM  
Blogger paz said...

Thank you for this post! Your "Sebastian's London" series is one of my favorite parts of your blog. This particular entry made me wonder if this would have also have been "Hero's London," or if women where only allowed in as patients...

9:34 PM  
Blogger LOgalinOR said...

Candace, thanks so much for another "Sebastian's London" post. Utterly fascinating stuff, especially for us in the medical professions. One could almost hear about the "secret meetings" and "societies" that were only spread by word of mouth under hushed tones. The desire for knowledge and understanding of the human anatomy was great---for those who were interested.
I attended pharmacy school in the late 1970's, in a major Midwestern city, in an old and unsafe part of town, next door to an old beer brewery. The anatomy classes with cadavers were in the basement, actually more like a dungeon (picture--narrow deserted hallways, creaking wooden floors and stairwells, dim lighting, the cloying smell of formaldehyde). Shades of Paul Gibson's "secret" world-laboratory--LOL.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Essex said...

This is such a cool post. When I look at those pics and think of how medicine has advanced since then, it makes me marvel at the ingenuity of those who made it all possible. A great book to read is "The Emperor of all Maladies - a Biography of Cancer". It details the history of cancer and its treatment. No wonder we are living longer!
On another note, only a few more weeks until march 5th! I am on vacay then,so am happily thinking about spending a day doing nothing but reading WDB.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:51 AM  
Blogger cs harris said...

Charles, you really have to wonder what kind of a person could do that.

Paz, I suspect the women were only allowed as patients. I know medical schools in New Orleans in the 1850s allowed women to attend medical lectures even though they couldn't be licensed.

LOgalnOR, that sounds like the stuff of nightmares!

Essex, Sounds fascinating, although I don't know if I could read that book--cancer really, really scares me--way more than serial killers.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Candace - Lots of spammers on blogger lately. How annoying for you. Anyway, the pics are fascinating. I love seeing the things how they actually were. It gives you such an appreciation for what was really happening back then. Keeping my fingers crossed that next week's release will rocket to the top of the charts. I know I'm counting the days. Have my hardback ordered from B&N, my kindle version ordered from Amazon and am just waiting for the audible version to show up so I can order that too. Oh, and I've put copies on hold at both King County and Seattle Public Libraries for both myself and every family member (knowing it helps sell copies for you ;-) I'm counting the hours and taking Tuesday off so I can tuck away and read. Well, have to do taxes too, but what a treat it will be to be able to read about Sebastian after I'm done. Sabena

9:12 AM  
Blogger cs harris said...

Sabena, this post seems to have brought them out in unusually large numbers. Thanks so much for all your efforts! I recently heard that the book has already gone into a second printing, before it's even on sale, so that's a good sign!

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:27 AM  
Blogger Buffy said...

Awesome. I lived there for years. No idea why I didn't try to visit the place.

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7:26 AM  
Anonymous Marjorie Madonne said...

Dear C. S. Harris I really enjoy your St Cyr novels. Was so sorry I seemed to have come to the last one with What Darkness Brings, which I am now reading, but happily Goodreads just informed me I have won a copy of Why Kings Confess. i never win anything so I am so happy!

One thing, I wish you publisher included maips In the books.

Keep up the good writing, and more about Hero, please! She is à wonderful character.

Marjorie Madonne

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