Museum of History of Anaesthesia at Euroanaesthesia Geneva

Museum of History of Anaesthesia at Euroanaesthesia Geneva

  • Issue 71

Peter Biro

Even as the curator of this impromptu museum I was surprised by the unexpectedly intense attention and numerous visitors to the small exhibition where this anaesthesia-related installation was concentrated on a tiny plot of 40 m2. Especially from a distance, this makeshift time capsule appeared like a haven for shipwrecked travellers, who rescued themselves on its shores on their way among the harbours of the various lecture halls. The unanticipated success was quite surprising when considering the history of this undertaking.

In February 2017 Prof Christian Kern, president of the Swiss Society of Anaesthesia and Resuscitation (SSAR/SGAR), approached me with the request to set up a historical exhibition in the halls of the congress venue. The objective was to reflect the particular Swiss aspects of our discipline’s development. Indeed, this idea was self-evident; after all in several of the preceding congresses, similar endeavours had become the focal point of interest and a welcome opportunity to allow the attendees a glimpse into the local history of our discipline. During the remaining short period of less than 4 months, an intensive and somewhat hasty search for historically relevant and presentable objects was initiated. Additionally, intricate organizational and financial negotiations were conducted between Peter Biro (Zurich) on the one hand, and the ESA secretariat, the SSAR/SGAR, and various involved parties on the other. All this of course only via telephone and Internet, not in person. This became quite a struggle for the unexperienced curator, who recruited a small but enthusiastic team of collaborators, investigators, and poster designers from the five academic anaesthesia hospitals in Switzerland.

Irene Iselin-Chaves from Geneva and Stefan Zbinden from Zurich excelled in identifying, making available, and transporting about 50 exhibition items from remote and hidden storage rooms of several Swiss hospitals. Among them some antiquities that were about 130 years old (the ether masks) and some behemoths (the Engström anaesthesia machine transported from the Luzerner Kantonsspital to Geneva in solitary splendour). Additional fascinating objects came from Lausanne (collected and provided by Christian Kern and Philippe Frascarolo), as well as from Berne (carefully carried by Andreas Vogt). The same teams researched and designed four large posters, supported by Noemi Zurron and Kay Stricker (Berne). The posters dealt with 1. Milestones of the History of Anesthesia: Worldwide and in Switzerland (contributed by Stefan Zbinden); 2. Swiss anaesthesia workplaces over time (by Irene Iselin-Chaves); 3. Intensive care, resuscitation, and rescue systems in Switzerland (by Kay Stricker); and 4. Pain therapy and scientific research in Switzerland (by Noemi Zurron). The final poster drafts were laid out under the supervision of Alina Rotaru from the ESA Secretariat, who became the life-saving anchor for the struggling creative team. As it turned out, the posters were printed, framed, and set up at the Congress literally at the last possible moment. The selected 50 objects of various age, origin, and size were distributed into four illuminated vitrines.

Another point of interest and an added attraction was a video installation, on which two movies, produced by members of the teams from Geneva and Zurich, ran in an endless loop: the History of Anesthesia in Geneva, and a parody of the development of anaesthesia practice in Zurich over the last five decades entitled “Listening to the Heartbeat of Time”. Rodolphe Di Loreto (ESA Secretariat) lent his on-site-discovered calligraphy skills to label all exhibited items in a tidy and uniform fashion, a measure that was not only informative for the visitors, but which also proved to be essential for the correct allocation and flawless return of the loaned items. The institution closest to the congress venue, the University Hospital Geneva provided a small group of anaesthesia nurses and students (Thierry Laroche, Sylvie Nowak Gueugneua, Clara Gueugneau, Claudine Carera and Annick Vinsonneau) who volunteered in half-day-shifts to attend and guard the exhibition from its opening to its dismantlement.

In conclusion, the exhibition was successful in its own right as an attraction and a learning experience for the congress attendees. We hope that the exhibition also had a positive impact on the perception of Swiss anaesthesia in light of its achievements, contributions, and innovations. Not least, the members of the working party enjoyed the collective team spirit, which was a large part of this project.