Where fear and medical treatment went hand-in-hand
The Old Operating Theatre Museum
“Going into surgery was a traumatic experience,” said Karen Howell, a Curator at the Old Operating Theatre. “There would be a theatre of people watching the surgery, people to pin you to the bed and they would make you promise not to move.”
The Old Operating Theatre can be difficult to find; it is located near London Bridge on the original site of St Thomas’ Hospital. The museum has a massive display of old surgical tools and an apothecary for you to see how medicines were made before the invention of machines. Dim lighting and gory paintings of human bodies cover the walls. As you look around you will soon find yourself in the women’s operating theatre where many patients received amputations. You can stand where the crowd would have watched, and imagine the horror these people went through.
“Men and women had separate surgery rooms,” continued Karen. “It was often considered unseemly for men and women to be operated on in the same room. Most hospitals would perform five to seven surgeries a week, many of those amputations.”
But, if that doesn’t satisfy your blood lust and you’d still like to experience the gory side of London’s surgical past, then take a trip to the Hunterian museum. It can only be described as a serial killer's paradise. Hidden in the walls of the Royal College of Surgery, you’ll find around 3,000 glass jars filled with an array of gruesome artefacts. From a large intestine to a crocodile foetus attached to the egg by an umbilical cord, all were donated by real animals and people. It’s home to some truly horrifying sites including the reproductive system of a real woman. But, the collection is testament to one 18th century Surgeon, Vet and Dentist, John Hunter. He believed the only way to make surgery safer is to better understand anatomy. He collected healthy and diseased specimens from humans and animals, which helped people understand the true intricacies of the human body and the illnesses we suffer from.
Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the horrifying reality of surgery in the Victorian era, and what they went through when dealing with minor medical problems. Unhappy to have the NHS!?