VIEW-2733 | Operating room, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, QC, about 1894

Operating room, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, QC, about 1894
Wm. Notman & Son
About 1894, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , medical (125) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

Basic techniques for preventing post-surgical infection were first adopted in Canada in the early 1870s. At the time, doctors wore neither gloves nor masks, and instruments were not disinfected but given a cursory washing, at best.

This was because the infection-causing role of microorganisms was not yet known. Some surgeons attributed patient deaths to internal biological factors not their responsibility. Others blamed the noxious city air and preferred to operate in the country.

Convinced that contamination was the culprit, British surgeon Joseph Lister developed a device that surrounded the patient in a cloud of powerful disinfectant. During the operation, it delivered a continuous spray of phenol onto the surgical area, the surgeon's hands and the instruments. Dr. Malloch of Hamilton was the first to use an apparatus of this sort in Canada, in 1869.

  • What

    In the late 19th century, surgery rooms had become the place of choice for teaching operating techniques. The presence of students without masks raised the risk of infection, of course, but this was not yet known.

  • Where

    The Royal Victoria Hospital lecture hall was fairly traditional and was used to teach surgery. Minor procedures were likely performed there.

  • When

    This room is typical of those in hospitals affiliated with medical schools in the late 1800s. Previously, when student bodies were smaller, the students had to crowd around the operating table to watch the teaching surgeon at work.

  • Who

    Surgery rooms were generally reserved for faculty surgeons. This one was used to teach surgical techniques to McGill University medical students.