“The surgeon may stand or be seated, in a posture comfortable for him and dependent on the point of operation and the light.” Hippocrates (460-370 BC) had already made some suggestions about ergonomics during an operation.
Today there are definitely more variables involved in setting up an operating theatre than during Hippocrates time. Designing a well-functioning operating suite with its different working areas and special equipment is a very complex task. The aim would be that surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists and other staff could work co-operatively, productively and safely together. This can be quite a challenging task when taking into account the different working habits and demands. A surgeon in the beginning of the 20th century would have experienced completely different challenges. Operating theatres at that time lacked essentials such as running water. Dr Hipsley describes the operating theatres from 1904 when he was a surgeon:
“The only artificial light came from a gas chandelier which one of the surgeons was not averse to raising or lowering with his own hands during an operation. There were two wash-hand basins which were ordinarily china wash-basins such as one could see in any household in those days. There was no running water, either hot or cold, and all water had to be carried into the operating room. Alongside the operating table there was a metal stand, with three enamel basins, one of which contained water, one an aqueous solution of perchloride of mercury (1 in 5000) and the third a spirituous solution of biniodide of mercury (1 in 1000). There was also a movable instrument table, and another one for dressings.”
(In: The early history of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Sydney , 1880 to 1905, P.L. Hipsley, Sydney 1952, pp. 63–64.)
Listen to Professor David Gibb and his thoughts about operating theatre design (OH, 10.01.12):
“In 1902 the new modern operating theatre was opened. It was a large room and windowed at one end and having a ceiling window. The ceiling light was very important as no satisfactory artificial lights were as yet advised, and light had to be concentrated into an operation field by manoeuvering dark and light blinds on side and ceiling windows. [ …] About 20 years later a large circle of electric globes with reflectors was hung above the table. This gave a very bright diffuse light which could not be focused in depth and was exceedingly hot. The more modern type of shadowless lamp devised with a system of mirrors was not installed for about another ten years.”
(In: Earlier Days: a story of St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, by Douglas Miller, Sydney 1969, p. 50.)
Listen to Dr Richard Bailey talking about operating theatre lights in the 1960s (OH, 18.01.12):