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The Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl's Court

The Lancet 2:161-162, July 17, 1897

On Monday members of the press were invited to a private view of the incubators for infants at the Victorian Era Exhibition, Earl's-court. These are exhibited in a building facing the Welcome Club, and divided into three compartments. On one side there is sleeping accommodation for two wet nurses and for Mdlle. Louise Recht, who has been specially trained at the Paris Maternity Hospital to look after debilitated and prematurely born infants reared in incubators. A special service for this purpose was established at the Maternité in 1893, and here some 400 children, born under most unfavourable circumstances, are received annually. On the other side of the building there is a nursery, where the infants are taken to be fed and washed. The public are admitted to the central room, and here they can view the infants lying within the incubators, and are shown how the apparatus is ventilated and warmed and the temperature automatically maintained. The mechanism employed for this purpose has already been fully explained in these columns. [1] Its efficiency is now put to a practical test. Messrs. Coney and Schenbein, who are the representatives in England of this the "Altmann Incubator," invite the criticism of the medical profession, and will supply every possible facility for the fullest investigation. They are ready to take in their charge any prematurely born child, and, apart from the trained nurse and the wet nurses, they have retained the services of two physicians, who attend three or four times a day to watch over the health of the infants. At night the watchman awakes the nurses every three hours so that they may feed the infants, and in the day time the babies are fed, generally from the breast, every two hours. In the nursery there is a small pharmacy, contrivances for sterilising milk, ingenious feeding bottles, and scales so that the infants may be weighed and their progress daily observed. A very large number of persons have already visited this exhibit, including many trained nurses. Much interest is manifested by the visitors. The incubators and the ventilating tubes are silvered, which gives them a bright and cheerful appearance, while the infants within look clean and comfortable, so that altogether it is a pleasant as well as an interesting sight.

It so happens that among the exhibits of the London Hospital to be seen in the main building there is an old-fashioned incubator which serves to illustrate the progress accomplished in modern days. This old incubator is not aseptic, for it is simply a wooden box with a glass lid, nor can the temperature within be automatically maintained. It is warmed by placing underneath three stone bottles containing hot water. Of course, the water becomes cold and the temperature falls unless the attendant is very careful. Nor is there any system for filtering and moistening the air. Instead of breathing pure outside air the infant must breathe the air of the ward or room in which he or she is placed. How all these inconveniences can be avoided will be made manifest to those persons who visit the special exhibit of the Altmann incubators.

In other respects the exhibits of the London Hospital give a graphic object-lesson of the progress made in medicine, surgery, and nursing. Thus, while Messrs. Krohne and Sesemann show the improved and the new surgical instruments they supply to the London Hospital, there is displayed on a table the somewhat primitive instruments that were used at the hospital at the commencement of the century. Among the comparative novelties are the regulating inhalers for the administration of anesthetics. Messrs. Krohne and Sesemann have also an improved patent lever spring for correcting the malposition of the great toe, and there is Largiader's apparatus for strengthening the chest and limbs, by which home gymnastics may be practised for the modest cost of 7s. 6d. Here, also, will be found Messrs. Allen and Hanbury's well-known pharmaceutical preparations, and their surgical instruments, their furniture for operating theatres, nurses' bags, pocket cases, and other things of interest to the profession, together with a patent portable bed-rest.

The London Hospital exhibits present to the public many of the most striking features of a surgical ward. For instance, there is one bed with a dummy figure representing a man who is supposed to be suffering from fever. From a cradle placed over the bed two large metallic trays are suspended containing ice. Rubber pipes travelling from these trays drain off the water to a bucket under the bed. Formerly a number of little buckets were tied to the cradle. These were more easily upset, and as they retained the water the bed was often wet. For the new beds now used the wire spring mattress is fastened to the iron framework and there is no wood whatsoever. But there are fracture boards that can be introduced to harden that portion of the bed where a spring mattress would interfere with the treatment of the patient. Further, all the heads of the beds can be easily lifted off whenever it is necessary to administer anesthetics. There is also an ingenious method for lifting off the side of a cot, and it slides down a groove perpendicularly to the floor, so that it takes up no room. Then there is a new table on high legs, which passes over the beds, and can be wheeled up to the patient without resting on the bed clothes. The application of a cradle for fractured tibia is shown on a dummy figure, as also the methods employed for hip extension and the operation of tracheotomy. Among the curiousities, the old operating table used a century ago at the London Hospital and Miss Nightingale's carriage which she employed in the Crimea evoke much interest.

In this section the Jubilee Institute for Nurses have their exhibit. They display the bags they carry about with them, and their various ingenious contrivances for extemporising, in the dwellings of the poor, whatever may be required for the successful nursing of the sick. What changes can be thus brought about are illustrated by pictures of the interiors of houses, notably of Irish huts, before and after the nurse's visit.

The Metropolitan Asylums Board, the St. John Ambulance Association, the Army Medical Department, and Messrs. Burroughs and Wellcome (outfits for field purposes) have extensive exhibits in another part of the building. The education department was, from the sanitary point of view, a decided disappointment. We did not, for instance, notice the plan or the photograph of a single schoolroom provided with lateral light or any scientific method of warming and ventilating. There were, however, several pictures of class-rooms where these modern improvements and sanitary arrangements are utterly ignored. The careful treatment of milk and all its products by the London and Provincial Dairy Company was much more satisfactory. Here fresh milk, strawberries and cream, ices, &c., may be enjoyed by the visitor while contemplating cows and calves contentedly chewing the cud in model stables.

Altogether, though the Victorian Era Exhibition is in the main a pleasure resort, still, there are some exhibits of technical interest to members of the profession, so that a small portion at least of the time devoted to a visit may be usefully as well as agreeably employed.

[1] The Lancet, May 7th, 1897.


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