Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Old Operating Theatre

Last September I visited the 300-year old Herb Garret, hidden away at the top of a narrow and steep spiral staircase in St Thomas's Church in Southwark . . . . And found the Old Operating Theatre.

This was a women's operating theatre and it was built into one end of the roof space in 1822 because there wasn't enough room in the hospital next door. At first glance this placement seems rather strange. But it makes more sense when it is realised that the wards of the South Wing of St. Thomas's Hospital were built around St. Thomas's Church. It was also approximately at the same level as the women's surgical ward which helped with the movement of patients into the theatre. The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints because without anaesthetics or antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations. Uuurrrrrggghh!

Placing the Theatre in the Herb Garret of the Church allowed for a separation from the ward and gave a separate entrance to students. The 1815 Apothecary's Act required apprentice apothecaries to attend at public hospitals, this meant that hordes of students poured in to watch operations. Before 1822, women were operated on in the ward - possibly causing a certain amount of distress to all the women concerned!

Anyhow, images and thoughts generated by the O.O.T. have stayed with me and a book has been brewing (I admit, at a leisurely pace) all this time.

While there I'd made sketches and noted ideas - but I didn't really know then what I wanted to say about it. After all I'd gone there expressly to visit the herb garret.

I drew a plan of the theatre, made a series of photocopies and played around with shapes and ideas. I found myself drawn to the many and various approaches to medicine. The history of medicine is really quite terrifying, some techniques seem quite barbaric to us now. 

Bloodletting, purging, blistering, the use of leeches . . . . and scant knowledge about hygiene. 

I don't know about you, but, I harbour the suspicion that some of our current theories and techniques will cause future generations to cringe. However . . .
This project was turning into a book, it was during the planning stages I started to place text about different medical approaches onto separate pages.

So we see: Heroic Medicine, Faith Healing, Barber Surgeons, Herbalism, and the Scientific Method.
And for quickness I carved a block from MDF, so that I could get some colour down.

Big revelation - MDF is so easy to carve, it prints really nicely, is cheap to buy and doesn't warp. 

How good is that.
This is where I'm at now. 

I've printed a series of O.O.T. plans for text placement and to make prototypes - should be finished this week - da-dah!

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