The Long Way Home

Ether Dome

Most people don’t consider touring a hospital as part of their vacation. But that’s what Jeff and I did one Tuesday in Boston last month.

The site of the first ether-induced slumber, the Ether Dome is on the 4th floor of the Bulfinch Building at Mass General. Walk purposefully through the lobby filled with patients and workers in scrubs to the oldest wing of the hospital. There is a tiny room displaying daguerreotype prints unearthed from an old basement, a Victorian-era wheelchair and the 1830s wedding suit of one of the first doctors to use ether in surgery. It’s hard to imagine that in the center of those gleaming hardwood floors, doctors cut open patients for a roomful of men in bow ties and black overcoats. Now the daylight shines hard through the stained glass dome, casting shadows around the room, making you think your eyes are playing tricks on you. 


the first operation, painting detail

skeleton detail. photo by Jeff.

the mummy. photo by Jeff.

skull. photo by Jeff.

surgery theater

ether dome

5 Comments so far
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What an extraordinary place to visit. It is both awe- and terror-inspiring to think of what was accomplished in the early days of surgical medicine… to think of what was commonplace here, in this room with the sanitary white walls and blood-red floors, where patients (I wonder if they were named by their diagnoses, even then) became object lessons for the eager mob…

btw, I love the moniker “odditorium”.


Comment by eyegillian

I wondered about the people in the painting. I have to read more about the first ether surgery, but who was the man who received it? Can you imagine how terrifying it would have been to have a glass tube in your face, trusting these doctors that you would ‘fall asleep’ and feel little to no pain? Frightening.


Comment by Lisa

I love the name “Ether Dome” too!


Comment by Allegheny Eats

the “mummy” photo is creepy!


Comment by Allegheny Eats

I think if we had a chance to buy a mummy for our house, we’d pretty much take that chance.


Comment by Lisa

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