Cleaning and sterilising

Can you imagine surgeons not wearing scrubs?

In the mid 1800s, there was not much known about germs, bacteria and sterile equipment. Postoperative mortality rates were quite high because of infections. Eventually some improvements were made. Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that washing hands reduced infection rates during surgery. In 1865, Joseph Lister successfully used carbolic acid as a surgical antiseptic. By 1869, he had developed carbolic steam sprays to kill airborne bacteria in the operating theatre. In the 1880s Charles Chamberland, who was a colleague of Pasteur, invented a steam steriliser known as an autoclave. Another simple but effective step in reducing the infection rate during an operation was to start wearing rubber gloves. First rubber gloves during surgery were introduced at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney around 1896 when Dr MacLaurin was appointed as director. But ear, nose and throat operations were still conducted without gloves at RPAH up to 1928.

Professor David Gibb talks about the necessity of hand washing basins (OH, 10.01.12):

Cleaning up

Dorothy Mary Armstrong obtained her nurse training in the mid 1920s at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She remembers that cleaning up in the theatres took about four hours, including cleaning the copper sterilisers:

Having escaped from the cleaning chores of our first year for a while, we returned to a great deal of solid cleaning in our fourth year, when we went to the theatres. The theatres were widely separated from each other and each had a separate staff of one Sister and two nurses. These theatres were beautifully built of marble and tiles and, after removing linen, instruments, etc., we had to wash, with lysol, all walls and lights, and the floor. We had to scrub all enamelware with sandsoap or monkey soap, making sure to remove every mark, and the final task was to clean the copper sterilisers with oxalic acid, then rub the monkey soap and brasso, leaving them with not a mark, dry and shining as copper only can shine (but with what elbow-grease!) for the Sister next morning to inspect.” (Armstrong, The first fifty years, Sydney 1965, p. 164)

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