Back at the Old Operating Theatre

On Thursday night I had the pleasure of returning to one of my favourite places in London for a fabulous evening of wine and Victorian surgery. Rachel had asked me if, instead of exchanging Christmas presents last year, we bought tickets to an event she had found online through a friend. It was a great idea and I jumped at the chance to introduce her to a place I love.

The Herb Garrett is in the attic space around the Operating Theatre and is a lovely collection of objects and fascinating things.m

That’s how I ended up back at the Old Operating Theatre at the Herb Garrett site on St. Thomas’ Street. Another friend came with us who, due to an unfortunate injury, was able to try out the newly installed lift at the museum. Previously, the museum has only been accessible via a very small and unnervingly narrow spiral staircase that scares me somewhat. It’s handy to know, and I’m pleased to broadcast that in future, if you need disabled access to this museum it is available upon request with a valid reason.

The Operating Theatre with original operating table on the left and reproduction on the right

Another thing I’m pleased to say is that the museum have invested in some further cushions for the wooden steps! Previous visits had made me recommend to friends to take at least a rolled up jumper to sit on because after and hour sat on the wooden floor made for a very numb bum and achey hip joints. However, handy seat pads are now provided which is excellent!

Rachel did not appreciate the smell of the soap bars being passed around

I won’t spoil the content of the Victorian Surgery Demonstration talk for those who will be attending in future, it’s often on during normal museum opening hours and also some are available after hours. It is a fabulous talk and the speaker is very knowledgeable in the subject matter. Objects are passed around and you can really get a feel for what surgery would have been like in the past, particularly pre the introduction of anaesthetic.

In depth demonstrations upon a willing volunteer

Sadly I tore myself away at the end, partly because I needed to empty my bladder so badly but also because I always feel a huge spend up coming on when in their wonderful gift shop. I cannot recommend a visit to this delightful museum enough and think it is one of the best hidden sites in London. One thing I had been curious about was how this theatre had survived, the lady told me that the whole area had been boarded up and not accessed for a long time and almost been forgotten about. It makes me wonder how many roof spaces of old buildings are hiding little treasures like this!

MG x

Copenhagen Medical Museum

Copenhagen was the perfect break for November. Laura B and I had planned it for a few months, we reacted to the intense heatwave of the summer by booking a trip to somewhere that would definitely be cold. I spent many a hot summers day dreaming of blankets, scarves and thick socks. I’m a Winter person as well as a cat person it would seem.

Always perfectly happy in the cold!

One thing I had discovered upon researching the sights of the city was that there was an ‘anatomy’ museum or medical museum. I knew nothing about it apart from a glance at the website to find out where exactly it was, because I had to visit no matter what. As it turns out, the medical museum is nestled in a grand looking building next to the more popular Design Museum. The door as you approach is closed, sensible in the climate, but automatically opens as you approach which is not something you expect from a very tall, old looking wooden door. Once inside, the museum is made of wooden floors and steps, the different areas of the museum separated by split levels and short flights of stairs.

I try not to make a habit of taking photographs in toilets…. but this arty display of sharps bins caught my eye while using the facilities!

Fortunately, the people of Copenhagen do generally have everything in Danish or English so we were given an English leaflet guide to take around with us. I had tried my hand at Duolingo before we went but I was hardly fluent. The museums we went to all asked that we left our coats and bags in either a locker or at a cloakroom, something which felt like a very sensible idea and a good way to feel the benefit of your coat upon leaving!

Cool display of pacemaker devices

The first room we entered was a history of psychiatric care and the different approaches. Most notable of this room was the display of a large lockable box with a bed inside which looked mostly terrifying, and the different therapies shown such as electric shock therapy and a really disturbing box of props used for children’s therapy including a creepy mask.

Next we found ourselves in a room with a large glass table which turned out to be a game. After a good ten minutes of trying to Google Translate the Danish, I turned around to find the English version behind me. It was a game of luck, selecting body parts at random each turn via a spinner in the centre of the table. A bit like Anatomical Twister but each body part came with its own disease or trait that added or subtracted years from your life. We both started off at 80, I was taken years for having some mild complaints and died at 76. Laura B was given a great head start and added many years to get life by being a widow! I can’t remember at what age she died but it was at least twenty years on me. I really liked the concept and playing this game, and once we had finished the guide from the front desk came to find us to tell us a tour in English was starting soon if we would like to join. Of course we obliged!

The back wall of the teaching auditorium

The tour took us through the remaining rooms, starting of looking at some early surgical procedures such as trepanning and amputation. We then moved onto the early thoughts of the four humours of the body and how this developed through time to what we know today. This was very interesting, and included a look at the auditorium that was used for early anatomy and surgical demonstrations and lectures, and also a discussion of how the concept of miasma formed and was then forgotten. This is the belief that infections and diseases were carried in the air, which later changed once we understood infection control a lot better!

Dry specimens displaying various pathologies

The final room of our tour took us into a large area packed full of specimen jars like those I’m used to seeing in the Gordon Museum or at Barts Pathology Museum in London. The first cabinet we looked at was packed full of pre-natal and full term babies with various defects and deformities. It turns out this is a collection formed to better understand these problems and find ways of preventing them. The second and third cabinets were full of other specimens showing various pathologies both in dry and wet specimens which was really interesting. I didn’t ask at the time but I think this was a fraction of the teaching collection from the hospital.

Some wet specimens and also the child with Rickets in the lower left corner

One thing I noticed while there was that there were no issues with taking any photographs in this museum. I know from experience of those in London you are not allowed to take photographs, particularly close up of specimens and I would never wish to because I feel it inappropriate especially in the case of babies. I asked our guide Rasmus after our tour had finished if there were any particular laws around display in Denmark, he said there were no laws as such but there were guidelines which allowed display of specimens over 70 years old and there were no issues with photography. He also commented that they had prepared for controversy when the museum opened in regards to the displays but so far none had been received! It was very interesting to see this difference in attitude here and how they chose to display items.

I loved this display but in hindsight I can’t remember exactly what it was!

One final thing, there was a skeleton of a child displaying the effects of a severe vitamin D deficiency. We in the UK know this as Rickets, however in Denmark it was known as the English Disease! Rasmus said he did not know exactly why, however there was a tendency in the early medicine stages of naming illnesses after nations you did not like. As we found out on our boat tour the day before, the English stole the Danish navy at one point so I can see the justification here.

I hope this was interesting, and has tempted you to visit the museum if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen! Link for the museum is here.

MG x

AAPT Annual Conference London 2018

It’s a most excellent start to any morning when you make a cup of tea only to realise that the milk’s gone off. However I wouldn’t let that ruin or darken my day for I was off early to the AAPT 14th annual conference and this year I had some pretty awesome reasons to be excited.

Cup of tea attempt #2

I arrived at the Holiday Inn Regent’s Park to a crowd of people outside. Some people I recognised, fewer I actually knew and a lot more I had no idea who they were. I’ve been lucky to attend a few AAPT events before including this conference last year, it almost feels like I have a tick-list of people to check off each time to speak to, and this year I got a whole load of new ticks. One thing I will say, the people of the AAPT are always so very friendly and just, well, normal people. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like I fit with a job I’ve had, good news really when I’m pretty certain I’ve got my dream career.

Got a little beefeater bear to go with my Cardiff dragon

When I got there I saw an open door towards the registration desks so I rushed in to get my lanyard and bag of goodies. A little pre-emptive as I was immediately told they weren’t open yet and to go stand outside! Oops! Outside I stood nervously catching people’s eyes and trying to figure out who was an APT and who was a bog standard hotel patron. The doors opened not long after and I got registered, then walked through to the conference room to grab a seat and dump my coat. Then it was time to grab a cup of tea and settle on in for the morning session.

Trusty notebook bought by Laura D and the conference programme

There was an array of talks in the morning and the afternoon of a very high calibre. I particularly enjoyed a presentation by a member of the air ambulance crew who described East London as being ‘well, yes, a bit stabby’ while discussing the kind of call outs he went to. I’ve seen the kinds of procedures they use on people who have arrived at the mortuary but I’ve never been sure exactly how they are carried out or why, now I know! In the afternoon session there was also a presentation by a Sergeant from the Metropolitan Marine Police who look after the river along with other areas, for example I never knew they did high areas like rooftops too! Her presentation was a brilliant and informative one, largely explaining what happens to people if they end up in the river and how they are found. Her presentation ended on discussing the SS Princess Alice disaster where a passenger paddle steamer was struck and sank in the Thames in 1865. A larger part of my notes from this section includes a direct quote of a description of the water at Woolwich where it sank being ‘fast flowing poo soup’.

Thought you might enjoy my little sketch titled ‘how people float’ drawn from an impression the speaker did on stage, fish was not in demonstration.

It was a fabulous day and I got to meet some wonderful people. Right towards the end I found out that I was going to receive a certificate for my CPD (continual professional development) achievement over the last year with others, which I then spent the last hour worrying about going up the front. Typical of me! The AGM (annual general meeting) after the main conference also had the very exciting announcement that I have been appointed the Student Representative on the Council for the AAPT. This mean some hard work but I’m so looking forward to working with the Council going forward. I guess this is also a good time to announce that, all things going to plan, I will be starting my full training course in February 2019. It’s going to be a very exciting time coming up!

CPD certificate and my mugshot on the council listing!

Sadly I didn’t get to attend the evening event, I had to get home early but I was also a little grateful for other commitments. When your last talk of the day is about boat disasters and pulling bodies out of the Thames, a not very confident swimmer like me would be a little anxious about a party on a riverboat!!

I’d like to take an opportunity to thank the hard working people of the AAPT who put together and awesome conference again this year. I loved every minute and I am very much looking forward to the next one in Edinburgh in 2019!

MG x

My Death Plan

On more than one occasion at Death Café I have been asked a very simple question and this is ‘What are your funeral plans?’. Shamefully I honestly answer that there aren’t any, or at least I haven’t made any complete decisions. I simply haven’t sat down and thought about it yet. When I do think about it for a short while, what I think of as ‘nice’ changes with the days. The most notable change is that some days I think donate everything to whoever needs it, but others I think a nice simple burial in a shroud with loads of bright flowers. Funnily, I never think extravagant or big even though daily I meet funeral directors through work who swear that the only way to go is a horse drawn carriage and the most expensive coffin on the market. However having finished reading The American Way of Death Revisited today I am realising it’s probably not in my nature to want a huge casket and the works.

By writing this, I’m hoping to at least give some form of impression of my final wishes or while typing I might actually arrive some kind of decision. I know exactly what I don’t want. I don’t want a coffin, but if you must then I’ll have cardboard or wicker because wood is an absolute waste. I don’t think I want traditional cremation in all honesty, it uses so much energy but I do quite like the idea of not taking up a plot somewhere and using unnecessary space. In that case, the alkaline hydrolysis which is not yet legal in the UK would be quite good and I hope that I live long enough for this to become legal if I decide that’s what I want. If I do end up as dust, I don’t mind taking up space in the back of a cupboard somewhere while you decide where to scatter me.

Thinking about it, I will put down some ideas here. When the time comes, just pick and choose from the options. I’m cool with all of the below, and besides, I won’t know any of it is happening so do what you want to do, thank you to future person who ends up arranging whatever it may be when I die!

  1. Donate my organs if I die in circumstances allowing. Donate my body to the London School of Anatomy if they will have it. There are a lot of criteria to fulfil, if they are even accepting anyone the week I die which they aren’t always. If none of that can happen, donate the bits I can whether that be eyes, skin, tissue, ligaments etc. or all of the above. Just take what you can! Sadly I know there are a lot of reasons why this may not be an option, but I’m on the organ donor register and quite willing to help the living with any working spare parts.
  2. Whatever’s left, either;
    1. Cremation or alkaline hydrolysis with no official ceremony. Scatter me over the park where I live, currently I’m preferring from the top of the big hill I have struggled to walk/run/cycle up so many times so I can be there forever in glory, and my family/friends will have to walk up it. Somewhere else is that’s not feasible (not just because you don’t want to walk up a big hill), and the hanging out in a cupboard still applies.
    2. Simple burial in a fabric shroud with a ridiculous amount of flowers and flower petals all around me. Natural burial woodland like that at Herongate but not necessarily there if space has run out.
  3. No ceremony somewhere that costs money but have a huge party at my house or someone else’s. I demand a cheap house party.
  4. Remember me with lots of gin and playing ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds at least once (but preferably several times).

That was surprisingly easy once I’d put my mind to it. Lucky for me, people can read this and reference it should I die at some point. Don’t worry, I have no plans to die in the near future but as a death practical person I also totally accept it will happen one day and possibly sooner than we all think.

My real point with this post was to get you all thinking and starting those conversations with loved ones. It’s totally true that sometimes when these conversations become necessary and in the worst times of our lives they can be the hardest thing to undertake. However, to just let your wishes known one evening over a bottle of wine with your nearest and dearest can be an incredibly freeing and intimate conversation. In true death positive spirit I’m always up for a conversation about death but even if other people would rather talk about anything else on earth, it’s going to happen one day to us all so no harm in preparing for it!

Nothing like a death post to cheer up a grey August Bank Holiday Monday, as always please do get in touch if you would like to ask or discuss anything. Particularly if you have some interesting death plans.

MG x

Things That Go Bump In The Mortuary

One question I get asked a lot is whether I believe in the afterlife. Alongside that is also whether or not I believe in ghosts. I think I oddly find these the hardest questions to answer because of not wanting to offend anyone, which is crazy compared to the other in depth questions I have been asked about my job.

For a long time now I have identified as an atheist. A conclusion that I have come to after years of wondering if religion was to be a part of my life when I was younger and resolutely deciding it was not to be as a teenager. This does not mean, however, that I have anything against people being religious in any capacity and I am actually quite fascinated by the many religions I now encounter through my work. The differences in the way people react, respond and deal with death through their religion is so very interesting. I’ve even asked if I can attend some different ceremonies because I am deeply curious about them.

Being an atheist does mean I don’t think there is any such thing as an afterlife. I find it hard to perceive that we all go to this other place after we die. Although I did rather enjoy The Good Place, that’s a concept I could get behind. Again, I have no issue at all with what anyone else believes in. That’s just my personal perspective. I’m also very open to being proven wrong. A Christian friend once asked me about my belief in the afterlife or if anything happens after you die, I honestly replied saying ‘I don’t think so, but I’m excited to find out’. That’s so very true, if it is how I think it is and nothing happens then that’s that. If it isn’t, wont it be interesting to find out what it is?

Fully recommended if you haven’t yet watched!

Do I believe in ghosts? That’s a hard question to answer again but for a very different reason. I hope I’ve portrayed myself as being quite open minded but logical, and therefore I won’t sound ridiculous when I say that I’m not entirely against the idea of something ghostlike. Maybe. I don’t know that I’m not totally imagining things or just a victim of my own over-active imagination but strange things can happen is all. Outside of work I have been ghost hunting and I didn’t really experience much. One of the mediums on the hunt claimed a ghost was clinging to my leg at one point and it did go cold but I’ll be honest and say that again I was probably just a victim of my imagination at that point. I’ve certainly witnessed some strange things at work that have thrown me slightly but I’m not completely settled either way on what any of that actually is!

I will never pretend to be an authority on ghosts or the afterlife at all, I can’t possibly be! However please feel free to talk to me about this topic at any time because I’m fascinated by how people feel about it.

In other news, the Death Cafe for July has been announced for 17th July 7-9pm at The Sweet Rose Cakery. We had such a blast there last time that we know this next one will be a good one! Feel free to get in contact if you’re curious or would like to come along.

MG x

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