Modern Medicine

The Old Operating Theatre

My dad came home from the hospital today, just 72 hours since undergoing surgery for hip replacement. Dad is a fourth generation farmer, and his hip was in bad shape after years of climbing on and off of tractors and combines and kneeling down to dig his hands in rich, Midwestern soil.

The care Dad received at the hospital and will continue to receive at home via medications, therapy, and continued check-ups until he’s well on his way to a complete recovery is a far cry from the services available even a few decades ago when something like replacement of a joint meant more pain, more rehab, and potentially continued decreased mobility.

While in England, I had the opportunity to visit the Old Operating Theatre (Southwark area, near London Bridge), the oldest such site in Europe where patients were taken for surgery in the late 1700s-early 1800s, typically sans anesthesia (other than a gulp of whiskey or other makeshift sedative), and where doctors-in-training were able to observe procedures. Before the discovery of anesthesia in 1847, the key to a successful (i.e., survivable) surgical operation was swift precision. Surgeons had to quickly isolate the problem, promptly remove the affected limb or meddlesome affliction, and expeditiously close up the incision. Otherwise, patients were likely to die of shock or blood loss, and infection (an unknown at the time) might set in.  

The operating theatre sits atop St. Thomas Church next to an herb garret, a room filled with natural elements used for medicinal purposes. Connected to St. Thomas Hospital, the theatre and garret were strategically placed to allow transport of patients and near enough to the hospital to promise a steady stream of curious residents in training.

I was thinking about how much we modern patients take for granted. The “restitution narrative” that medical sociologist Arthur Frank theorizes–the assumption that any illness, no matter the magnitude, should follow the same trajectory of “Yesterday, I was healthy. Today, I am ill. Tomorrow, I will be healthy again.”–is, in part, a response to the efficient, less painful way in which our bodies are treated in hospitals like the one my dad visited earlier this week.


2 thoughts on “Modern Medicine

    • Thanks for taking a look at my blog, Becky! It was great seeing you, too, and hard to believe that it’s been about 19 years since I first called you for advice on dealing with a new diagnosis of breast cancer. I credit you for getting me through the most difficult time of my life.

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