For centuries, doctors based diagnoses on their own experience and the explanations given by their patients. But in the 1920s, new scientific procedures appeared, offering physicians objective information about patients’ conditions. That was when medicine as we know it today was born. Some of these major advances are presented in the exhibition Patient and Doctor. From Narration to Objectivity that you can visit in the Sant Rafael Pavilion.
This exhibition is organized jointly with the Museum of History of Medicine of Catalonia and is linked to the historical recreation housed in the pavilion, covering the same period. The exhibition is divided into three sections that show how these new diagnostic mechanisms influenced not just the detection of pathologies but also their treatment.
The examination room: detecting signs of illness
The examination room, like the replica you can see in Sant Rafael, was where the doctor-patient relationship took place. In addition to the explanations that patients could give, professionals examined the body and interpreted its physiological expressions. In this way they could collect data using medical instruments and keep an objective record to be shared and studied with other doctors.
One of these innovations introduced in the early twentieth century was the use of X-rays. The first doctor to introduce them in Spain was Cèsar Comas, a doctor at the Hospital de la Santa Creu. At that time, the X-ray room was called the “Photographic Cabinet”. At Sant Pau, it was located above the main operating theatre, next to the laboratory.
The laboratory: fragmentation of the patient
Analysis of human fluids and tissues provided doctors with valuable information on which to base their diagnoses. The place where these tests were analysed was the laboratory, which became a central place in the hospital in the 1920s. The processing of this objective data, obtained from observation and analysis, paved the way for the advent of modern medicine.
The operating theatre: from exploratory to curative surgery
Scientific progress in the laboratory made it possible to suppress pain by means of anaesthesia and reduce the risk of infection and bleeding using the new techniques and the most advanced instruments. Operations then began to be more successful and changed their function: they went from being exploratory, discovering the state of the body, to being curative and healing.
Speaking of operations, as you enter the Sant Rafael Pavilion, on the left you’ll see a reproduction of a black-and-white photograph from the 1930s, showing two surgeons operating. Do you know who they are? They are doctors Manuel Corachan and Josep Trueta, the teacher and student.
Corachán, a doctor at Santa Creu as of 1905, enjoyed great professional prestige for his contribution to the development of general and digestive surgery in Catalonia. He also devoted himself to traumatology, a specialization in which he was a teacher of renowned doctors, like Trueta himself. In 1963 he was appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare of the Catalan Generalitat Government, a position he vacated shortly after the start of the Civil War.
In the 1930s, meanwhile, Trueta developed antiseptic care, a new technique for treating war wounds in the limbs. Thanks to him, thousands of lives were saved. After the Spanish Civil War, Dr Trueta, like so many other doctors, had to go into exile.
Sant Pau is Art Nouveau and, above all, history. Are you ready to find out more?