Shining a Light

Shining a Light’ on Operating Theatre Lights – Exploring the Royal Adelaide Hospital Operating Theatre Lights held in the museum collection.

Several bulky wrapped ‘lumps’ of different sizes lie in our storage room. On closer inspection, the ‘lumps’ reveal themselves to be large, circular surgical lights. These lights have been rescued from operating theatres that have long been demolished, and they serve as reminders of how rapidly medicine and surgery have progressed. 

Before the development of specialized operating theatre lights, the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s operating theatres relied on natural daylight. The surgical tables were placed near large windows to maximize the amount of sunlight entering the room. Whenever possible, most of the scheduled surgeries were performed during the daytime.

No 1 Operating Theatre, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Ca1914

Our earliest operating theatre lights date to the 1930s and were used in the Dental Hospital of the Royal Adelaide. The light’s metal casing is painted cream, and the base has a translucent fitting with a metal rim that has been painted to look like brass.

Royal Adelaide Hospital Dental Hospital cubicle 3, 1967

Before the outbreak of World War II, the construction of the McEwin Building had begun at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. This building was designed as a theatre block consisting of specialized operating theatres, radiology, and recovery wards. However, due to the war, the building did not open until 1945, and the first operation was not performed until July 1946.

Royal Adelaide Hospital McEwin Theatre Operating Lights, 1946
McEwin Theatres, 1946 – courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Over the years, with the progress of technology in medicine and surgery, the use of specialized lighting has become essential in operating theatres. The reliance on natural lighting has been replaced by advanced surgical lighting systems. In the 1960s, the Royal Adelaide Hospital underwent a major redevelopment program which included a new operating theatre complex. This included the installation of two Chromophare Theatre lights, which were later used by the Burns Unit in Ward R4B and are now a part of the hospital’s collection.

Written by Margot Way, CALHN Health Museum