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The Old Operating Theatre Museum (and Herb Garret)

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published August 2nd 2011

Medical history is a grizzly thing to go peeking into. The grizzliest facet of which is surgery. If you went under the knife it used to be pretty touch and go whether you'd get up off the table, but yet all those pioneering surgeons, and patients, had to hone the art somewhere. And this museum celebrates that. Albeit in a pretty grizzly way.

The Museum is in the garret of St. Thomas's Church, Southwark, on a site that was once St. Thomas's Hospital, and is centred around one of the world's oldest surviving operating theatres. The theatre was converted from a herb drying and storage space in 1822 before that they performed surgery on the ward.

All the patients who would have been operated on in this theatre would have been women, and prior to 1847 it would have been without anaesthetic or antiseptics. The approach was basically get in there and get out again ASAP. Skilled surgeons could complete an amputation in a minute or less, and these were the most common surgeries, along with other more minor superficial operations. One of the highlights of the museum is the Speed Surgery performance which takes place at 2pm every Saturday, where you can really get to understand how an operation would have taken place. The reason that the theatre is set up so well for this is that it really used to be a theatre it became law for student medics to attend operations, so there had to be plenty of space to accommodate them.

As well as that grizzly, yet informative exhibition, the museum has an exhibition covering the history of medicine as well as the history of the hospital itself, exhibition covering the usage of herbs and other tools of the apothecary, and an exhibition focusing on some of history's most interesting surgical breakthroughs.
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Why? This was real life
When: Everyday: 10.30am to 5.00pm
Where: 9a St. Thomas's St. London SE1 9RY
Cost: 5.90
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