In the days before anaesthesia had been discovered operations had to be extremely quick because the chances of a patient dying on the table was very high. (And also the constant screaming must have got on the doctor's nerves!)
If the patient was lucky he would pass out from the pain within the first few seconds, but if he was made of much stronger stuff then he had to make do with a strong drink beforehand and a block of wood to bite down on.
If you'd like to get a taste of the horrors that Victorian patients had to endure then get yourself down to the Old Operating Theatre for an after-hours demonstration on their the authentic operating table.
The Old Operating Theatre is a remarkable time-capsule that survived hidden in the rafters of the old St. Thomas's Hospital. When you tiptoe up the creaky old stairs you find yourself in a... er... how can we best describe it? -- it's like a witch's cottage in the forest. It sounds daft, but you will totally understand what we mean when you see it. Check out the photos in Craig's review of the Old Operating Theatre to show you we're not joking.
The actual Operating Theatre itself is like a mini-amphitheatre, with wooden balconies around a plain wooden table in the pit. That's where the patient will be lying (screaming) while you watch (cower) in the stands. Whilst he is writhing in pain the doctor will explain some of the methods the Victorians used, and how they compare with the methods today.
Craig has never been to this actual event (he's too frightened), but you can have a read of his review on his blog to see what the Operating Theatre looks like inside.
> Craig’s review of Old Operating Theatre – “You'll find the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret in an attic at the top of a tower, and you have to climb up a tight and winding wooden staircase to reach it. It's not your normal kind of museum. It's like a creaky-old cottage in the rafters -- a bit like a witch's cottage in the woods. You probably think that I'm exaggerating, but I promise you I'm not. I'm bein… continued”
Victorian surgery at the Old Operating Theatre – Sat and Sun – A demonstration about Victorian surgery inside the original 19th-century Operating Theatre at St Thomas's Hospital.
Medieval Banquet, with minstrels and knights – Wed to Sun – Enjoy a medieval banquet and be entertained by English knights and singing minstrels and King Henry VIII.
Ghost Stories at Lyric Hammersmith – 29 Mar to 11 May 2019 – Chill your blood with Ghost Stories - a terrifying theatrical experience filled with real shocks that will turn your hair white!
Slavery, Culture & Collecting – 15 Sep 2018 to 15 Sep 2019 – This exhibition explores the connection between some of Britain's oldest cultural organisations and transatlantic slavery
Feliks Topolski — Drawing Debden – 1 Oct 2018 to 28 Jun 2019 – The Bank of England Museum will be putting on an exhibition of work by Feliks Topolski about the Debden printing works.
The Sun — Living With Our Star – 6 Oct 2018 to 6 May 2019 – The Science Museum will be telling the extraordinary story of the life-giving star that sits at the centre of our Solar System.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition – 19 Oct 2018 to 30 Jun 2019 – Wildlife Photographer of the Year returns to the Natural History Museum with this exhibition of the top 100 photos.
If you enjoy Old Operating Theatre then you might like to visit Fleming Museum (catch the train from London Bridge to Paddington) and Florence Nightingale Museum (walk it in 28 mins or catch the tube from London Bridge to Waterloo)
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