26 June 2014

LIKE 54: A tour of the Old Operating Theatre Museum

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) mixes in a few socials with its calendar of talks and I often find these as instructive as the (slightly) more formal events. There is usually an information and knowledge sharing aspect to the socials and I learned a lot from our visit to The Old Operating Theatre Museum.

The first thing that I learned was that the museum existed. I knew the area around London Bridge reasonably well having worked nearby and having socialised there many times. The frontage of the museum is small and nondescript so even knowing that it was there and actively looking for it I still managed to miss it the first time.

From the plain entrance one of the tightest spiral staircases that I have ever climbed took me up to the business part of the museum where other LIKErs were already gathered. Wine was offered and duly accepted.

We were then led into the operating theatre next door where our smartly dressed guide was ready to tell us the fascinating history of the oldest operating theatre in Europe (but no longer in active use).

We stood around the steep horseshoe as medics looking to learn had done almost two hundred years ago.

Then there were no anaesthetics or antibiotic and so surgery was a pretty brutal affair, though it was successful enough to continue as a practice.

The main way to reduce pain was to act swiftly and Martin was used to demonstrate techniques for cutting the flesh away so that a bone saw could be used to amputate the leg. The best that the Martins of the time could do was to bite down on a rag and it was not uncommon for patients to die from the shock.

In one of the more grim tales we were told how one surgeon had managed to kill three people in one operation, which had proved to be something of a career-limiting move.

Our guide was knowledgeable, fluent and entertaining. The tales came pouring out far to fast for me to note and I made the wise choice just to listen rather than miss something by truing to write at the same time. The one note that I did take was that Samuel Pepys had had a bladder stone the size of a tennis ball removed.

Having had our heads filled with medical history and some minor horror stories we went back to the herb garret to look at all the medical items on display there.

I had had enough of body parts and sharp objects by then so I took pictures that I found aesthetically pleasing rather ones with medical interest. That is why there are lots of bottles in my selection and no saws.

This was a social so after the tour we went to a pub and, given where we were, The George Inn was the obvious choice. This had already been there for a hundred years when the operating theatre opened.

It was raining when we got there, for which nobody had come prepared, so the hordes that would normally have been in the large courtyard were all inside. Despite that we managed to get served and to find a place to stand that was not too much in the way.

Eventually the rain stopped and lots of people went outside freeing up a table and some chairs so that we could sit and eat as well as drink. The chunky chips with dips were very popular. We never eat or drink in silence and the conversations flowed smoothly and richly.

And then we wandered home. It was another good LIKE event and I hope to go to many more like it.

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