Friday, 26 April 2013

An operating theatre for WWI

Due to be published online this summer are further editions of the Craigleith Chronicle, a hospital magazine produced by staff and patients of Craigleith Military Hospital during World War I. As a taster of one of the editions, part of an article by CW Cathcart from September 1915 is presented this week (LHSA ref GD1/82/8).  In it he explains how the operating theatre was developed when the hospital was converted from the poorhouse. Due to the war, the facility needed to have all of the equipment supplied locally. The problem of supplying sterilised water was one which was overcome by a number of interesting solutions. Two forty gallon water tanks designed for domestic purposes were obtained, where water could be sterilised by boiling before being used for operations. One of these had a coiled cold water pipe run through it so that the water could be chilled to provide cold sterile water. A high-pressure steriliser was donated by the Edinburgh Royal Maternity Hospital staff who said they could make do with an old steriliser in the meantime and a cast iron cattle trough (presumably new) was converted into a boiling basin by fitting it with an exit tap and a cover!
The images from the magazine show the water and bowl sterilisers, and a general view of the operating theatre.
Adjoining rooms were converted to create an X-ray department, an anaesthetic room, a sterilising room, a room for applying dressings and a dental room. The article states that between the end of August 1914 and mid July 1915, the theatre and dental room were used for 1,792 surgical and 1,324 dental operations, however these procedures were for the most part carried out to ‘fit recruits and Territorial soldiers for active service abroad’. This suggests that the health of young men in the Lothians was not great at the time. Cathcart concludes by thanking the theatre sister for her efficient service during his time in Craigleith, reminding us that carrying out operations was a team effort.

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