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

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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.

In the 1800s, Drinking Too Much Tea Could Get a Woman Sent to an Insane Asylum

The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

If you were a woman in the 19th century, virtually anything could get you committed to an insane asylum—including drinking too much tea.

NHS Grampian Archives, which covers the region around Scotland’s Grampian mountains, dug up an admissions record from the Aberdeen Lunatic Asylum while looking into the institution’s annual reports from the 1840s. The table contains data on causes of admissions categorized by sex. In addition to those admitted to the asylum for “prolonged nursing,” “poverty,” or “disappointment in love” (one man and one woman admitted for that one!), one woman arrived at the asylum only to have her issues blamed on “sedentary life—abuse of tea.”

Intrigued by the diagnosis, someone at the archives tracked down more details on the patient and posted the case notes on Facebook. Naturally, her condition involved more than just a little too much Earl Grey. Elizabeth Collie, a 34-year-old factory worker, was admitted in November 1848 after suffering from delusions, specifically delusions about machines.

Her files state that “she imagines that some species of machinery has been employed by her neighbors in the house she has been living in, which had the effect of causing pain and disorder in her head, bowels, and other parts of the body.”

Asylum employees noted that ”no cause [for her condition] can be assigned, except perhaps the excessive use of tea, to which she has always been much addicted.” She was released in June 1849.

A letter to the editors of The British Medical Journal in 1886 suggests that the suspicion of women’s tea-drinking habits was not unique to Aberdeen mental health institutions. One doctor, J. Muir Howie—who once served as a regional president for the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh, so we can assume he was relatively respectable—wrote to the publication:

Would you kindly allow me to draw attention to the fact that, among women at least, the abuse of tea frequently leads to the abuse of alcohol! My experience in connection with a home for inebriate women has led me to this conclusion. Many of the inmates, indeed, almost all of them, were enormous tea-drinkers before they became victims to alcoholic dipsomania. During their indulgence in alcohol, they rarely drink much tea; but, as soon as the former cut off, they return to the latter. In many instances, alcohol was first used to relieve the nervous symptoms produced by excessive tea drinking.

Ah, women. So susceptible to mania and vice. It's a miracle any of us stay out of the madhouse.

Crocs Is Donating More Than 100,000 Pairs of Shoes to Healthcare Workers

Sturdy, comfortable Crocs are a favorite among healthcare professionals.
Sturdy, comfortable Crocs are a favorite among healthcare professionals.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Crocs have long been a favorite among healthcare workers who spend hours on their feet each day—and now, they can get a pair for free.

This week, the company announced that it will give away more than 100,000 pairs of shoes to medical professionals fighting the new coronavirus in the U.S. ClickOrlando reports that workers can submit their requests for Crocs Classic Clogs or Crocs at Work via an online form on the Crocs website, which will open each weekday at 12 p.m. EST and continue accepting orders until it fulfills its daily allotment.

According to a press release, that allotment is a whopping 10,000 pairs of shoes per day. The as-yet-unspecified end date for the program—called “A Free Pair for Healthcare”—depends on inventory levels and the number of requests the company receives. In addition to shipping shoes to individuals, Crocs is also planning to donate up to 100,000 more pairs directly to healthcare organizations. So far, they’ll send shoes to the Dayton Area Hospital Association in Ohio, St. Anthony North Health Campus in Denver, Colorado, the Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, and more.

“These workers have our deepest respect, and we are humbled to be able to answer their call and provide whatever we can to help during this unprecedented time,” Crocs president and CEO Andrew Rees said in the release. “Share the word to all those in healthcare and please be mindful to allow those who need these most to place their requests. This is the least we can do for those working incredibly hard to defeat this virus.”

Healthcare professionals can request their free Crocs here.

[h/t ClickOrlando]

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