9 Unfamiliar Things You’d See in a Hospital in 1900

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istock

Hospital technology has come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century – these former staples of every ward and operating room have all but disappeared.

1. Street Clothes in Operating Rooms

By 1900, doctors understood that cleanliness in operating rooms was an important part of curbing infection and transmission of germs. Unfortunately for patients, they hadn’t quite mastered the art of creating sterile surgical environments. Surgeons performed procedures in their street shoes and clothes topped little more than a butcher’s apron – not to protect the patient, but to keep their threads from getting too bloody.

2. Open Operating Theaters

The surgical team wasn’t alone in tracking contaminants into the operating room. Unlike the scrupulously sterilized modern operating rooms, in the 19th and early 20th centuries many procedures took place in large, open-air operating theaters filled with no barrier between the patient and spectators in street clothes. Since early electric lights didn’t always give off enough light for surgery, these operating theaters often included large windows to let in extra sunlight.

3. Bare Hands and Faces

Although rubber gloves had been invented in the 19th century, their use hadn’t really taken off in 1900. Surgeons would give their hands a thorough pre-procedure scrubbing, then get to work with bare hands. Similarly, the surgical face masks that are a common sight today were still decades away from widespread use.

4. Hand-Cranked Suction

If a surgeon needs a clear blood-free look at the area on which an operation is being performed, he or she can use suction to remove blood from the area. In modern operations, this task is performed by electrically powered vacuum systems, but in 1900 it required elbow grease – one member of the operating team furiously cranked a mechanical suction pump to give the surgeon a clearer view.

5. Inhaled Anesthesia

Being put under for surgery is pretty straightforward for most modern patients – a dose of drugs is administered via IV, and the patient drifts off. In 1900, things weren’t so easy. Inhaled ether was the anesthetic of choice in the early 20th century, and while it did the trick, it soon fell out of favor as more versatile, less flammable intravenous options emerged.

6. Nurses Wearing Caps

Until the 1980s, a small white cap perched atop the head was a part of nursing’s standard uniform. The cap wasn’t just decorative. It kept long hair out of the nurse's way and offered patients a visual cue that the person giving them care was a qualified nurse. However, as nurses transitioned to wearing scrubs rather than formal white uniforms, their signature caps fell by the wayside.

7. Involuntarily Committed Tuberculosis Patients

As tuberculosis tore through New York City during the late 19th century, in 1893 public health officials began an aggressive campaign to curb the spread of the disease. In addition to educating patients on how to prevent further infections, officials could forcibly remove infectious patients from their homes and confine them to hospitals. Although the measure sounds extreme, it worked.

8. Boiling Water Sterilizers

In an early 20th century operating room, you could have spied surgical implements sitting in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them. While this technique was somewhat effective at killing off germs, simple boiling in water can allow some spores to survive. Today, hospitals use a combination of steam and pressure in an autoclave to more thoroughly disinfect implements.

9. Stables

The motorized ambulance made its debut in 1899 when a Chicago hospital adopted an electric version, and the breakthrough found its way to New York City the following year, but the vast majority of emergency patients in 1900 made their way to the hospital in horse-drawn ambulances. Major hospitals had their own specialized stables in which horses’ harnesses dangled from the ceilings. When an emergency call came in, drivers dropped the quick-rigging harnesses onto their team in just seconds and took off for the scene.

Even as automobiles gained in popularity, horse-drawn ambulances persisted. Some of New York’s biggest hospitals were still using them as late as 1923. Public health officials were delighted with the development since it spared them both the hassle of operating stables and the unsanitary conditions that came with quartering livestock in close proximity to patients.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

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How Henrietta Lacks Became the Mother of Modern Medicine

A historical marker in Clover, Virginia, honors Henrietta Lacks.
A historical marker in Clover, Virginia, honors Henrietta Lacks.

On February 8, 1951, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, shaved a piece of cancerous tissue from the cervix of a 30-year-old woman. She had signed an “operation permit,” allowing him to place radium into her cervix to treat her cancer, but nobody had explained their plans to her. And no one foresaw that Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman with a sixth-grade education and five children, would become the mother of modern medicine.

Henrietta was born Loretta Pleasant on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia. Somehow, her name became Henrietta. After her mother died in 1924, Henrietta was sent to Clover, Virginia, to live with her grandfather, Tommy Lacks. Her cousin David “Day” Lacks lived in the same house.

Seventeen years later, after having two children together, Henrietta and Day married and then moved close to Baltimore so that Day could work at Bethlehem Steel while Henrietta took care of their growing family. She was big-hearted, fun-loving, and pretty, and though only 5 feet tall, she dressed and walked with a flare.

Immortal Cells

But on January 29, 1951, four months after the birth of her fifth child, Henrietta went to the dreaded hospital. Most Black people living in the Baltimore area did not trust Johns Hopkins. It was segregated, so they were certain they would not receive the same quality of care as white people, and, worse, they would be used for medical experiments. There were rumors that surgeons routinely performed hysterectomies on Black women who came in with any type of abdominal or pelvic pain. Henrietta was not one to complain, but, according to the 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, she could no longer bear the painful “knot on her womb.”

The tissue taken from her cervix 10 days later was given to Dr. George Gey, director of tissue culture research at Hopkins [PDF]. He believed that if he could find a continually dividing line of malignant human cells, all originating from the same sample, he could find the cause of cancer—and its cure. His assistant placed tiny squares of the specimen into test tubes, then labeled each tube with the first two letters of the unwitting donor’s first and last names: HeLa.

Oregon State University via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Soon, Henrietta’s cells began to divide. And, unlike the other cells they had sampled, they did not die. Gey started giving the immortal cells to colleagues, saying they had come from a woman named Helen Lane.

Within two years, HeLa cells had been put into mass production, commercialized, and distributed worldwide, becoming central to the development of vaccines and many medical advances. By 2017, HeLa cells had been studied in 142 countries and had made possible research that led to two Nobel Prizes, 17,000 patents, and 110,000 scientific papers, thereby establishing Henrietta’s role as the mother of modern medicine.

Henrietta had died on October 4, 1951. No one had told Henrietta, or her husband Day, that the cells still existed. No one had mentioned the myriad hopes and plans for HeLa cells. No one had asked permission to take them or use them.

HeLa Revealed

In 1971, an article in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reexamined the origin of the HeLa cells and reported that cervical adenocarcinoma had led to the death of the cell donor, Henrietta Lacks. Her name was now public knowledge.

Two years later, in a casual conversation with a friend, Henrietta’s family learned about the cells. The Lackses were shocked: Henrietta was alive through her cells.

A scanning electron micrograph of just-divided HeLa cellsNational Institutes of Health, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Then, a Rolling Stone article created an uproar in the scientific community by disclosing that the woman behind the cells was Black. Once again, the Lacks family was stunned. The article revealed that significant amounts of money were being made from the cells—while Henrietta's husband and children could not afford decent medical care and while her body lay in an unmarked grave.

More reports were written about Henrietta’s cells. Intimate details from her medical record were exposed in a 1986 book called A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman’s Immortal Legacy and The Medical Scandal It Caused. Medical professionals came to draw blood from her children. The BBC made a movie, The Way of All Flesh. And, as Skloot reports, a con man claimed he could get money for the family from Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, and throughout subsequent decades, the Lacks family's focus has been to try to figure out what it means to them that her cells are alive. They have received none of the billions of dollars the cells have garnered for biomedical companies, cell banks, and researchers. But Henrietta’s family can be heartened that through the Henrietta Lacks Foundation, founded by Skloot in 2009, the mother of modern medicine continues to demonstrate her big-heartedness.

The foundation’s mission is to “provide financial assistance to individuals in need, and their families, who have made important contributions to scientific research without personally benefiting from those contributions, particularly those used in research without their knowledge or consent." Moreover, it gives the countless people who have benefited from their contributions a way to show their appreciation to them. To date, members of the Lacks family and others have received more than 50 monetary grants.