Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why Did Operating Rooms Have Green Ceramic Walls?

A modern white washed abomination of an operating room that
has all the ambience of a  waiting room at the bus station. What
happened to the green ceramic tiled temples with terrazzo floors?
Much thought and deliberation was dedicated to the design of old time operating rooms. There was sound reasoning behind the selection of green ceramic tile walls and dark terrazzo floors.  These were not meant to be places where health care personnel fiddle around with computers, jaw - jack and mouth flap to one another, or gaze at flat screened monitors in a washed out colorless environment. This was  where the surgeons practiced their profession in a serious and sometimes somber environment. Where the rubber met the road. No monkey business was tolerated in this sacred green tiled environment.

These green ceramic  tiled temples were indeed sacred places where the patient was always at  the center  of a planned anatomical alteration to expeditiously eliminate pathology or repair traumatic injury. The room communicated this objective by the single-mindedness of it's stern ambience. Green was also thought to promote relaxation in patients prior to induction.  No one would mistake an operating room for a waiting room at the Greyhound station.

The color scheme was developed in response to the most important color present in the OR which is obviously the redness of blood and tissue. Green is the complimentary color to red and this was selected as the optimal background color  for surgery.

A surgeon who looks up from the dark red wound and glances at the bright,  illuminated  white-washed wall will find himself momentarily blinded by constricted pupils and it will take precious seconds for his eye to adjust back to the less well illuminated wound. This problem is averted with the eyeball friendly green walls. I suspect the architects of these white wannabe ORs have never lifted a scalpel or tied off  a bleeder. The lack of input from workers in the trenches has been a problem in hospitals since the times of Florence Nightengale.

Surgeons were always apex predators in the hospital food chain. If they wanted to keep their patient in the hospital for a week or two post-op; no problem. If they wanted to hand pick a favorite scrub nurse so be it, (This is how I became Dr. Slambow and Dr. Oddo's scrub nurse.) I kept my foolish mouth shut, my eyes open and tried to deliver the correct instrument at the appropriate time. If the surgeon preferred a green tiled operating room, that's what they got. Office sitting hospital administrators and architects rolled over surgical tradition like a well oiled power mower when white became their  color of choice for ORs. It's just plain wrong.

Mans' creations are sometimes at odds with nature and in the long run, nature always has the final say. Dr. Slambow always backed up his arguments by citing principles of Darwinian Evolution. According to him, man evolved in an environment of fields and green bushes that were the same shade as green ceramic tiles in the OR walls. And up above the illumination from the sky mimicked the overhead OR lights. The dark earth floor was replicated with beautiful terrazzo floors. Over millennia, natural selection adapted man to work under these optical conditions. It's simple common sense to reproduce these time proven optical conditions for the exacting work of surgery.

Another serious deficit  of these new fangled ORs is the absence of windows to establish a connection to the natural world. Surgeons of yesteryear would often stroll over to gaze out the window for the  view of  distant Lake Michigan to give their weary eyes a break  from close-up work and return to their surgery with a newly refreshed vigor.

Maybe an Eskimo operating in an igloo at the North Pole has the correct genetic make up to perform surgery in one of the modern white washed room, but I don't think white ORs would be optimal for most of the human gene pool.

There might be hope for a return to the time tested green tiled Operating Rooms. I remember when electronic components like VCRs (yes, I still use one) were produced in a silver coloration for a couple of years and then switched to black. This color change cycled back and forth (black- silver, black-silver)  over the years. Maybe we are into a white OR cycle and someone will wisely return to green.


  1. The more I hear of him, the more I like your Dr. Slambow! His Darwinian theory sounds perfect to me!!!

  2. Dr. Slambow was ill-tempered, unorthodox, and was my all time favorite surgeon.I think about him everyday. He was the best at salvaging (he hated that lifesaving label) trauma patients.

  3. I am currently rewatching the old show ER with my daughter and she made a comment about how ugly the green color was in one of the “trauma” rooms. I explained to her why they where that color, what it did and how it helped the doctors and surgeons.( someone told me when I was a whippersnapper. I immediately hit google to inform myself and her a little a more and stumbled on your blog.
    I am in love with this now. Your writing, the way you phrase things and the little giggles I got from some of your other post are just spectacular! I have been highlighting and looking up things as I have no experience in the medical field beyond ER And Greys anatomy so this is such a treat, learning and entertaining. Thank you so much for this treasure trove.

  4. I'm so glad you stumbled upon my foolishness. I love it when non medical folks read my foolishness and a few have emailed me with further questions. I always thought one of my weaknesses was writing in a too technical way so sometimes I try to liven things up a bit.

    Nurses sometimes have a strange sense of humor and when I was working I tried to mute most of it. Now that I'm retired, the inhibitions are gone.