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Wellcome Film of the Month: Tonsil surgery

26 Aug, 2011

This film, although its purpose is not explicitly stated, is an important historical record showing pre-operative treatment of child-patients by the surgical team at King George Hospital, London. The 16mm silent Kodachrome master was donated to the Wellcome Library by the family of the ENT surgeon credited at the beginning of the film, Mr. J.C. Hogg.

Anecdotally, the anaesthetist in the film, Mr. John Challis, was well-known for his amenable bedside manner and was reputed to give children a shiny silver sixpence before surgery. Although this is not shown, the children filmed together in the playroom at the beginning of the film, sitting on the floor, holding their toys and chatting to the nurse, provides evidence that efforts were made to make them at ease and tackle any anxieties before their operations. A relaxed patient is easier to induce and will recover from the anaesthetic quickly. The operation, as shown, is swift and a little bloody.

The film itself is a straightforward report of the techniques that were common for the removal of tonsils and adenoids at the time in children under 12. A girl is given an injection by a nurse and then the children as mentioned above, dressed in their surgical clothing, are shown in the playroom. A child comes in to the surgical room holding a teddy bear – note that the child is not restrained in any way. The child is anaesthetised (using the technique of dropping the anaesthetic agent, ethyl chloride onto a mask) and then eased onto the table. The operation proceeds quickly. Blood is absorbed with a sponge, then the patient is gently tilted so that any surplus goes into a basin. Next, the adenoids are removed. A lot of dilute blood is in evidence in the basin in the aftermath of the operation. The child is taken to the recovery room and is seen rousing.

Anaesthesia is well represented in the moving image and sound collection. There have been a number of significant acquisitions in this area; from the Nuffield Department of Anaesthesia at Oxford University (clinical experiments by E. A. Pask on an anaesthetised subject to test the buoyancy of lifejackets during the Second World War RAF Mae West, 194-  ), the complete series of The Technique of Anaesthesia produced by ICI in the mid-1940s and films donated by the AAGBI from the 1960s made by Barbara Weaver  at the Department of Veterinary Surgery, University of Bristol, Langford, pioneering the humane anaesthesia of large and small animals.

Angela Saward, Wellcome Film 

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 Feb, 2013 4:31 pm

    Who would have thought they would make a film about tonsil surgery?

  2. Sandra permalink
    29 May, 2014 7:20 am

    This little girl looks stressed when going to surgery, and in my opinion, this video should not be disseminated, because if a child watch it, then they must be very scared. The film is very useful, but not to frighten a small children… cheers

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