It was pouring on our drive back to Edinburgh but thankfully, as we were nearing the town, rain was coming to a halt giving way to a bit of sunshine. The Surgeon’s Hall museum was just at the bus stop. The building is noticeable on the road as the facade design is a classic weathered column.
The building looks old from the outside and one might think it would be the same inside. But as the saying goes “don’t judge the book (or for this situation, building) by its cover”; inside was more of a modern look. The building was upgraded a couple of years ago.
The museum has three floors that showcase the history of surgery and dental collections from centuries before.
As you follow along the arrows of the self-guided tour, the collections get more and more interesting—for me anyways. I was overly excited as the first room we went in was of the cardiovascular system. There was a real heart of a horse and of a human with tetralogy of fallot. I was explaining to Date the pathophysiology but I think I was overwhelming him with my enthusiasm 😂. The next room started our tour of the evolution of surgical practices– our glimpse of the surgical world in the past that made a huge impact of today’s practice, especially of women working in the field of medicine as physicians.
Aside from the paintings of great surgeons and old surgical apparatus, they display real body parts that were used to teach aspiring surgeons probably since 1500s. It was fascinating to see how far we’ve accomplished since then—from the tools and technologies used to the sophisticated surgical techniques of the present. We’ve really come a long way especially with the use of anesthetics. Did you know there weren’t any anesthesia given to any procedures before? Probably due to the scarcity of supplies or if you were just not in the right place to have a nasty injury, the best you can have was a stick to bite down into or some leaves to chew. So if you badly injured your limbs, chop- chop! And yes, the tools used looked like they were taken from a blade smith. Needed dental extraction after biting the stick? Might as well get a carpenter to do the work and maybe pay less.
The museum is very amazing that even if you’re not medically related you’d probably find it informative and intriguing. But it’s not for the fainted-heart though. Aside from the specimens, they also show projected videos of surgeons dissecting a body. You can also perform your own surgery through the interactive virtual dissection.
What more fascinating to know about is the empowering story of the first seven women called the Edinburgh Seven, studying medicine in the University of Edinburgh. They were scrutinized and there was a protest in the school as women were not allowed to be doctors before. There were those that supported them, even some men. Eventually they were allowed to study but in a separate class and were given equal treatment as any medical students in the school. To add lemon to an open wound and crush the men’s ego to pieces, four out of seven topped the exam and all made their significance in the medical world. Talking about girl power!
Another interesting item to see is a book which is covered by William Burke’s skin. He was one of the infamous duo called Burke and Hare known for murdering people and stealing cadavers to sell to a doctor to be used for dissection in his anatomy class. I’ve been an avid fan of murder and mystery stories and I’ve read about them in one of the post of @remains2beseen on instagram. Burke was executed and was dissected just like his victims. His skeleton is still on display at the museum.
The top floor and my favourite part was the Wohl Pathology Museum which displays collections of neatly organized pathology specimens dated from 5 centuries ago and the largest collection in the world. I haven’t seen this much wet and dry specimens in one building and being in that room brought back memories of my nursing student years. For some odd reason, it made me miss those times in anatomy class when my classmates and I cram to learn various parts of the anatomy and understand their function to the body. You can clearly examine an organ and what happens to it when it’s caught with a certain disease. Surely, this museum is not for the squeamish *cough* *cough, Date*. I particularly enjoyed the heart and other cardio-thoracic related specimens and less of the dental collections given the history of my childhood trauma at the dental clinic LOL.
No photos and videos allowed in the museum because of the human organ specimens. So if you were in Edinburgh, it is really an interesting place to visit especially if you are studying medicines or just not squeamish at all 😜.