In 1917 Mr Arthur Cooke was appointed Surgeon to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and two years later he took charge of the Ophthalmic Department, up until then ophthalmology formed part of the Surgery Department.
In the late 1920’s the old board room, lecture room and the Matron’s bedroom, all on the first floor at the old site were converted into eye wards. The three wards, a total of 13 beds were opened in June 1932. Each ward had specially fitted dark blinds and had their own up-to-date operating theatre.
The operating theatre measured only 14ft by 9ft and as there was no anaesthetic or recovery room, both activities were expected to take place in the adjacent ward or the corridor. Into the theatre had to be fitted: an operating table, an anaesthetic machine, trolleys and numerous people. It was widely rumoured that if matron had to appoint a theatre nurse for the eye department she would have to be measured first to make sure she could be accommodated in the theatre! Added to this was the instruction that nursing staff could not wear nylon underwear because of the risk of explosion from anaesthetic gasses.
The night after the opening, 10 patients were admitted for operations. At the opening Mr Cooke said ‘that they had lost less that 1% of eyes operated on since the development, during the last few years, by Dr Whittle, of a culture test ‘to see that the eye was free of germs.’ Before the test 9% of eyes were lost after an operation.
Mr Cooke died just after the ward opened; his commemorative wall plaque is displayed in the department.