International Symposium on the History of Anaesthesia – Boston

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Greetings from Boston! Where autumn/fall is in full swing and the pumpkin spice lattes are on every menu. I have always wanted to visit America during this time of year and I am absolutely thrilled that this conference has lined up perfectly! Although it is technically my first full day in Boston (I arrived last night) there is already so much to discuss.

Today I spent the day with my lovely friend Monica exploring a few sites in Boston. We first visited the Warren Anatomical Museum for a meeting with its curator, Dominic Hall. We had a fascinating discussion about storing and maintaining wet specimens – meaning full body parts including organs that need to be stored in a preserving liquid.

We had the chance to go behind the scenes and see the laboratory work that is currently on the go. There was great dialogue regarding what can and can’t be displayed and how ideal storage conditions have been met. As part of the chat, we saw the original premises of the museum. Architecturally stunning.


We didn’t have time to see the museum itself, but I’m hoping to return and shall blog if I can!

Another highlight of the day was seeing the Boston Public Library. It is such a stunning building with marble stair cases, murals and water fountains. I don’t know how anyone can actually study in this place. We spent a bit of time just wondering around and admiring the beauty that was in front of us.


It was then time to register for the International Symposium on the History of Anaesthesia and travel to Massachusetts General Hospital. Here, in 1846, the first successful demonstration of ether was performed in what is now deemed “the Ether Dome”. It is virtually impossible to think of surgery without anaesthesia. The pain, the complications and the recovery would just be beyond horrendous.

Needless to say this moment was, therefore, pretty revolutionary. To actually sit in the operating theatre where it happened was nothing short of surreal. Just picturing the surgeons and anaesthetist for the first time working in that space without causing great pain was incredible. It was a really powerful way to start the conference. I have visited other old operating theatres before, but, this one just had that added layer of history.


The conference runs until Friday. I am speaking tomorrow on experiences of surgery pre-anaesthesia particularly focusing on women. The history of anaesthesia tends to favour men who made contributions to the field in some way, shape or form. My paper is going to challenge this dominant narrative and offer new perspectives and readings on the past.

I am so excited to share my passion of medical history and my desire to see it flourish as a professional field. I will write a full summary of the conference at the end.

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Rebecca Lush

Exhibitions and Education Officer at Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum

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