My Mom used to say I was born in the wrong times. Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by all things Victorian.
So today I visited the Old Operating Theatre, the oldest in Europe, built in the garret of St. Thomas Church in 1822. It was built there because the women’s ward of St. Thomas Hospital was built around the church, and they used to operate on the women in the ward itself, which as you can imagine, would be highly disturbing if you were a patient there - listening to some poor woman scream as she’s having her leg sawn off. So they built this operating theatre in the attic, and next to it they prepared various herbs that they used in their medicines for the patients. In the 1860s, the hospital was moved to Lambeth to make way for a rail station, and the operating theatre was boarded up and forgotten for nearly 100 years until it was rediscovered in the 1950s.
Florence Nightingale started her nursing school here. Patients were operated on without anesthesia or antiseptic of any kind. This was before physicians discovered that bacteria causes infection, not bad air. Before they learned the importance of operating in a sterile environment. So they’d use and reuse bandages, wear the same bloody frock coat to operate in. Ugh.
One of the curators of the museum gave us a spontaneous lecture on surgery in the 1800s, and I learned a lot of very useful things, such as, when you are unsuccessful at cutting through a bone with a bone saw, use a bone chipper to finish the job. And do you know where the term “mad as a hatter” comes from? Many of the hatters like Christys had their factories in the Southwark area of London, where St. Thomas Hospital resided. In the 18th century, mercury was used to make the felt for fancy hats. We now know that mercury is a poison, but that wasn't known back then. Workers handling the mercury day after day would develop tics and twitches because mercury affects the nervous system, among other things. Hence the term “mad as a hatter”!
Speaking of mad, tonight I’m off to see a movie in Henry VIII’s backyard! Hampton Court Palace screens movies in the gardens, and tonight they’re showing SOME LIKE IT HOT. Can’t wait. But I’m glad Henry and Marilyn never met. He’d probably convince her to marry him and then chop her head off.
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.