Operating theatre
An operating theater was a non-sterile, tiered theater
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 or amphitheater
An amphitheatre is an open-air venue used for entertainment and performances.There are two similar, but distinct, types of structure for which the word "amphitheatre" is used: Ancient Roman amphitheatres were large central performance spaces surrounded by ascending seating, and were commonly used...

 in which students and other spectators could watch surgeons perform surgery. Within the Commonwealth nations, the term is used synonymously with operating room (OR) or operating suite, the modern facility within a hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

 where surgical operations are carried out in a sterile environment.


Operating theaters had a raised table or chair of some sort at the center for performing operations, and were surrounded by several rows of seats (operating theaters could be cramped or spacious) so students and other spectators could observe the case in progress. The surgeons wore street clothes with an apron
An apron is an outer protective garment that covers primarily the front of the body. It may be worn for hygienic reasons as well as in order to protect clothes from wear and tear. The apron is commonly part of the uniform of several work categories, including waitresses, nurses, and domestic...

 to protect them from blood stains, and they operated bare-handed with unsterilized
Sterilization (microbiology)
Sterilization is a term referring to any process that eliminates or kills all forms of microbial life, including transmissible agents present on a surface, contained in a fluid, in medication, or in a compound such as biological culture media...

 instruments and supplies (gut and silk sutures were sold as open strands with reusable, hand-threaded needles; packing gauze was made of sweepings from the floors of cotton mills). In contrast to today's concept of surgery as a profession that emphasizes cleanliness and conscientiousness, at the beginning of the 20th century the mark of a busy and successful surgeon was the profusion of blood and fluids on his clothes.

In 1884 German surgeon Gustav Neuber implemented a comprehensive set of restrictions to ensure sterilization and aseptic
Asepsis is the state of being free from disease-causing contaminants or, preventing contact with microorganisms. The term asepsis often refers to those practices used to promote or induce asepsis in an operative field in surgery or medicine to prevent infection...

 operating conditions through the use of gowns, caps, and shoe covers, all of which were cleansed in his newly-invented autoclave
An autoclave is an instrument used to sterilize equipment and supplies by subjecting them to high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C for around 15–20 minutes depending on the size of the load and the contents. It was invented by Charles Chamberland in 1879, although a precursor known as the...

. In 1885 he designed and built a private hospital in the woods where the walls, floors and hands, arms and faces of staff were washed with mercuric chloride
Mercury(II) chloride
Mercury chloride or mercuric chloride , is the chemical compound with the formula HgCl2. This white crystalline solid is a laboratory reagent and a molecular compound. It is no longer used for medicinal purposes Mercury(II) chloride or mercuric chloride (formerly corrosive sublimate), is the...

, instruments were made with flat surfaces and the shelving was easy-to-clean glass. Neuber also introduced separate operating theaters for infected and uninfected patients and the use of heated and filtered air in the theater to eliminate germs. In 1890 surgical gloves were introduced to the practice of medicine by William Halsted. Antiseptic surgery was pioneered in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 by Charles McBurney
Charles McBurney (surgeon)
Charles Heber McBurney, MD was an American surgeon known for describing McBurney's point in appendicitis.-Biography:Charles McBurney was born in 1845...


Operating rooms

Contemporary operating rooms are devoid of a theater setting, (though some in teaching hospitals may have small galleries) making the term "operating theater" a misnomer for the modern facility. Operating rooms are spacious, easy to clean, well-lit with typically overhead surgical lights, and may have viewing screens and monitors. Operating rooms generally have no windows and a controlled temperature–humidity environment. Special air handlers filter the air and keep rooms slightly pressurized in relation to the outside. Electricity support has backup systems in case of a black-out. Rooms are supplied with wall suction, oxygen, and possibly other anesthesia gases. Key equipment consists of the operating table
Operating table
An operating table, sometimes called operating room table, is the table on which the patient lies during a surgical operation. This surgical equipment is usually found inside the surgery room of a hospital. An improvised suitable operating table can be composed of two kitchen tables that are...

 and the anesthesia cart. In addition, there are tables to set up instruments. There is storage space for common surgical supplies. There are containers for disposables. Outside the operating room is a dedicated scrubbing area that is used by surgeons, anesthetists, ODPs (operating department practitioners), and nurses prior to surgery. An operating room will have a map to enable the terminal cleaner to realign the operating table and equipment to the desired layout during cleaning.

Several operating rooms are part of the operating suite that forms a distinct section within a health care facility. Beside the operating rooms and their wash rooms, it contains rooms for personnel to change, wash, and rest, preparation and recovery rooms(s), storage and cleaning facilities, offices, dedicated corridors, and possibly other supportive units. In larger facilities, the operating suite is climate- and air-controlled and separated from the remainder so that only authorized personnel have access.

Surviving operating theaters

While operating theaters are no longer used for surgery, some still exist. One of the oldest surviving operating theaters is the Old Operating Theatre
Old Operating Theatre
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret is a museum of surgical history and one of the oldest surviving operating theatres. It is located in the garret of St Thomas's Church, Southwark, on the original site of St Thomas' Hospital....

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. Built in 1822, it is now a museum of surgical history. Another theater still exists at the University of Padova, in Italy, inside Palazzo Bo. It was commissioned by the anatomist Girolamo Fabrizio d'Acquapendente in 1594.
Another famous operating theater is the Ether Dome
Ether Dome
The Ether Dome is an amphitheater in the Bulfinch Building at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. It served as the hospital's operating room from its opening in 1821 until 1867. It was the site of the first use of inhaled ether as a surgical anesthetic on 16 October 1846. William Thomas...

 in Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

. Built in 1824, it is now a conference room
Conference hall
A conference hall or conference room is a room provided for singular events such as business conferences and meetings. It is commonly found at large hotels and convention centers though many other establishments, including even hospitals, have one. Sometimes other rooms are modified for large...

 and tourist attraction.

In popular culture

  • In Lemony Snicket
    Lemony Snicket
    Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler . Snicket is the author of several children's books, serving as the narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events and appearing as a character within the series. Because of this, the name Lemony Snicket may refer to both a fictional...

    's The Hostile Hospital
    The Hostile Hospital
    The Hostile Hospital is the eighth novel in the book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.-Plot and summary:The book begins where the previous one left off, with the three Baudelaire children escaping the Village of Fowl Devotees...

    , Count Olaf disguises his henchmen as doctors and tries to perform a "cranioectomy" (decapitation
    Decapitation is the separation of the head from the body. Beheading typically refers to the act of intentional decapitation, e.g., as a means of murder or execution; it may be accomplished, for example, with an axe, sword, knife, wire, or by other more sophisticated means such as a guillotine...

    ) on Violet Baudelaire
    Violet Baudelaire
    Violet Baudelaire is one of the main characters in the children's book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and appears in all thirteen books. She is the oldest of the Baudelaire orphans at 14 years old, and often helps her 12-year-old brother Klaus and her baby sister Sunny...

     for a live audience in an operating theater.
  • In the Seinfeld
    Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

     episode The Junior Mint
    The Junior Mint
    "The Junior Mint" is the 60th episode of the American sitcom Seinfeld. It was the 20th episode of the 4th season. It aired on March 18, 1993.-"Mulva":...

    , Kramer accidentally drops a Junior Mint into the body of the patient Roy, Elaine's boyfriend, who is having a splenectomy
    A splenectomy is a surgical procedure that partially or completely removes the spleen.-Indications:The spleen, similar in structure to a large lymph node, acts as a blood filter. Current knowledge of its purpose includes the removal of old red blood cells and platelets, and the detection and fight...

    . Miraculously, his condition improves and the doctor declares that, during the operation, something "staved off [the] infection; something beyond science...something, perhaps, from above."
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