II-128417 | Surgical staff, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, QC, 1899

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Surgical staff, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, QC, 1899
Wm. Notman & Son
1899, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  mixed (2246) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Surgical care in the mid-19th century was still in its youth, and the clear distinction we make today between medicine and surgery did not exist. But although all doctors could operate, not all had the same skill.

Surgical procedures were rare because of the high risk of infection. Anaesthesiology was just emerging. There were no specialized operating rooms and, for lack of electricity, surgery was performed in daylight, near a window. A table, a few instruments and a handful of bandages were all that was needed to perform amputations, tie off blood vessels, extract kidney stones or remove tumours. Fear of infection precluded any surgery in the abdomen or chest.

Post-surgery was grueling for patients, who could be in recovery for weeks with vomiting, nausea and fever.

  • What

    By the late 1800s, surgical operations had become more complex and required a larger and better-trained staff. Chief surgeons were assisted by a colleague, an anaesthesiologist, a sterilization nurse and operating room nurses.

  • Where

    The newly opened Royal Victoria Hospital boasted the latest surgical equipment as it moved into modern surgery.

  • When

    The birth of modern surgery dates to the late 19th century, when anaesthetic and, especially, sterilization techniques allowed surgeons to open the abdomen and chest.

  • Who

    Traditionally, a surgeon's reputation was based on how fast he could perform painful operations. By the late 19th century, things had changed. Operations lasted longer, and the surgeon's skill was measured in terms of how fast the patient recovered.