For the release of Season 1 of The Knick on BluRay and DVD this week, HBO invited us to a talk at the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garrett.
The show follows John Thackery (Clive Owen), a surgeon who joins a New York City hospital (known as The Knick) in 1900, as he struggles with a cocaine addiction, the limits of medical knowledge, and lack of funds. The ensemble includes the rich donor Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance); the young black doctor Thackery is paired with, Algernon Edwards, who faces racial prejudice (André Holland); and Thackery's passed-over protégé Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson). All 10 episodes are directed by Steven Soderbergh (the Ocean's movies, Magic Mike, Side Effects, HBO's own Behind the Candelabra).
Above: The Old Operating Theatre
But this is not a typical medical drama or a typical period drama. Surgeries in 1900 are still a far way from medicine as we know it today, but while they could be gory they weren't as primitive as you might think - the museum covers the many rapid developments made the 19th Century, including the use anaesthesia, that pave the way for the breakthroughs of Thackery and Edwards. As demonstrated in the museum and seen on the show, tools were constantly being developed and repurposed for the hospitals and surgeons who could afford it. The infographic below lays out some of the real history behind the events on the show: