II-180990.0 | Operating room, Montreal General Hospital, copied for Mrs. Oliver, 1910

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Operating room, Montreal General Hospital, copied for Mrs. Oliver, 1910
Anonyme - Anonymous
1910, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

In the early 1890s, there was a growing understanding of the need to avoid contaminating the wounds of surgery patients through contact with unclean instruments, hands or other objects. Canada, like other countries, was in a period of transition, with physical sterilization, or asepsis, gradually replacing chemical disinfection methods.

It was around this time that pressurized devices called autoclaves came into use. Designed to work at extremely high temperatures, they made it possible to sterilize surgical instruments, bandages and anything else that might come into direct contact with the patient under the knife. Operating tables made of glass were preferred as they were easier to clean than the old wooden ones.

Procedures of this sort considerably enhanced the patients' chances for survival and paved the way for new operations. Doctors could now open a person's abdomen without provoking certain death, and the first appendectomies were soon performed. Modern surgery was emerging.

However, surgical masks were still a thing of the future.

  • What

    This is a partial view of an operating room readied for one Mrs. Oliver. The patient is pictured with the surgeon and his assistant, a rarity in photos at the time.

  • Where

    There is nothing to indicate where this surgery room was located, but it was obviously affiliated with a medical school.

  • When

    Several things suggest that this photo was taken in the early 20th century. The surgeon is wearing gloves, and a sterilizer can be seen behind the patient.

  • Who

    Evidently, Mrs. Oliver had agreed to an operation with medical students looking on. If she did so by choice, then she was wealthy. If not, it was because she was poor.