New book celebrates Waikato Hospital's rich history video


The Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust has published a book based on its popular Waikato Hospital timeline installation. The book and timeline detail the hospital's rich history.

It takes about 80 steps to walk through 129 years of history at Waikato Hospital.

That's a journey of about 45 seconds, from start to finish.

Time travellers with a fondness for ambling will take considerably longer.

Retired respiratory physician and trustee of the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust Dr Peter Rothwell next to the Waikato ...

Retired respiratory physician and trustee of the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust Dr Peter Rothwell next to the Waikato Hospital timeline.

The Waikato Hospital timeline has proved a popular attraction since its installation along 60 metres of wall space inside the Meade Clinical Centre. 

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On any given day, hospital visitors can be seen carefully tracing up and down the level-two corridor, studying the text and 226 historical images that comprise the 21 panels.

Early glass poison bottles had textured surfaces to warn users handling them in low light.

Early glass poison bottles had textured surfaces to warn users handling them in low light.

Swift-footed hospital staff tend to read the timeline in bite-size chunks: a momentary pause, a subtle head bob, before dashing off to wherever they need to be next. 

Retired respiratory physician Peter Rothwell says the timeline helps to soften the hospital's formal surrounds and gives an insight into the "heart and soul" of the place.

Three years on from the timeline's unveiling, its contents have been replicated in book form.

Waikato Hospital's popular timeline installation has been reproduced as a book entitled Waikato Hospital: Our Hospital, ...

Waikato Hospital's popular timeline installation has been reproduced as a book entitled Waikato Hospital: Our Hospital, Your History.

Entitled Waikato Hospital: Our Hospital, Your History, the hardcover book details the hospital's transformation from a five-roomed kauri farmhouse to a tertiary hospital campus.

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The book and timeline are the work of the Waikato Health Memorabilia Trust.

The trust was formed in 2005 and aims to preserve and display the history of the region's health care.

A collection of pacemakers on display at Waikato Hospital.

A collection of pacemakers on display at Waikato Hospital.

The group collects equipment, books, documents, uniforms, photographs and more.

Its latest project has the look of a coffee-table book, but reads like an authoritative reference book, with accounts and artefacts meticulously cross-checked.

At the back, readers will find book and image indexes.

A collection of anaesthetic objects.

A collection of anaesthetic objects.

Rothwell, a member of the trust, says the book builds on the work of such writers as RE Wright-St Clair, John Armstrong, PJ Gibbons and HCM Norris.

The book is being sold below cost at $50; 750 copies have been printed.

"At $50 each, it's still a lot of money for a lot of people, but our hope is the book will appeal to a wide audience," Rothwell says.

"This isn't just a book for former staff members. If you think of all the patients and their relatives and friends who have passed through the hospital over the years, that's a lot of people who have a connection to the hospital."

Formating the timeline into book form was an involved process, but was completed without any loss of content.

Rothwell says the timeline's accuracy has stood up to scrutiny.

"There were only one or two minor amendments that were drawn to our attention when we came to do the book. Naturally, everyone honed in on their bit of the timeline to see what we got wrong and the answer was very little."

In 1885, an act of Parliament set up the Hospital and Charitable Aid Boards. Two years later, 50 acres and a farmhouse were leased in Hamilton to form the Waikato cottage hospital.

The same year, the hospital admitted its first patient, James J Daley, an unfortunate chap who suffered severe injuries when a firearm exploded in his hand. His thumb and two fingers had to be amputated.

The operation took three hours and candles were used to light the operating room.

From those early days, Waikato Hospital has gone on to achieve a host of New Zealand firsts.

In 1971, the country's first reimplantation was carried out at Waikato Hospital when surgeons reattached a severed hand.

And in October 2004, surgeons at Waikato Hospital successfully separated conjoined twins following a marathon 22-hour surgery.

The operation involved five months of planning.


Rothwell says Waikato residents have every right to be proud of their hospital.

His own connection to the hospital dates back further than most.

His great aunt Elizabeth Rothwell was matron from 1896 to 1921. A building is named in her honour.

Rothwell himself joined Waikato Hospital in 1961 and worked as a respiratory physician until 1995. He also worked in the hospital's intensive care unit from 1973 to 1990.

In later years, he served as head of the Waikato Clinical Campus - the teaching arm of Auckland University's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Rothwell says the book accurately chronicles the hospital's enormous growth from a farmhouse to a large general hospital and, from the 1960s onwards, its development as a specialist hospital.

In years past, the hospital had its own tradesmen - carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, cobblers - giving rise to the phrase "the village on the hill".

The tradies may have gone, but the hospital remains one of the city's major employers. Today, 4526 full-time equivalent staff work at the hospital.

However, the continued growth of Waikato Hospital has not always been welcomed by other parts of the country - especially its northern neighbour.

It's an all too familiar narrative to anyone who's followed Waikato's bid to create the country's third medical school and the antagonism from Auckland and Otago.

In the 1960s, Waikato Hospital was disparagingly referred to as the largest cottage hospital in New Zealand.

"We've grown from then, but it's not always been with the support of our neighbours," Rothwell says.

"I won't say it's been over the dead bodies of Aucklanders, but we've had to fight for cardiology, respiratory medicine, chest medicine, heart surgery, chest surgery, neurology and neurosurgery."


Matching the growth of Waikato Hospital has been the staggering advance in medicine and health care over the past 130-plus years.

Rothwell describes the progress even during his own career as huge.

"If you look at what's happened in medicine since the middle of last century, it's just about everything that matters. I'll concede sulfonamides and penicillin were here, but that's about it."

Scattered throughout the timeline book are photos of medical artifacts held by the memorabilia trust and displayed throughout the hospital.

There are 10 displays altogether, each with its own theme.

Trustees ensure displays are housed in the right part of the hospital, are accessible to everyone and are professionally arranged.

"I've seen a lot of displays at hospitals that I would describe as gee-whiz cabinets," Rothwell says.

"There's a bit of everything, but they're really an unsorted collection of odds and ends. Instead, I think displays should have an educational angle. That way patients can see where we've come from in terms of treatment, where we're going, and how lucky they are."

The trust's first collection, an extensive display of pacemakers, illustrates how advances in technology have benefited healthcare as such devices have become increasingly smaller and less intrusive.

Next to the pacemakers collection is the trust's respiratory display, which, among other things, details how tuberculosis was once treated.

The formidably large capsules patients had to swallow each day as part of their treatment are prominent.

"I'm sure people will look at the display and think, thank God I don't have to put my head under a towel and inhale steam or swallow six of these large cachets each day for 18 months," Rothwell says.

"It was a big task asking a patient who might have TB, but not be ill, to take stuff that makes them feel crook for 18 months."

Photographer and illustrator Isla Trapski was commissioned to collect, collate and upgrade images from the Waikato DHB collection and the Hamilton City Libraries heritage collection.

Trapski says the trust is fortunate to have access to such a valuable collection of historical images.

Even in the early years, photos were professionally taken on large glass-plate negatives.

Both Trapski and Rothwell say the response to the book and timeline has been immensely satisfying.

There could be scope to update the book.

Space has been set aside to allow further panels to be added to the hospital timeline which ends in 2014 with the opening of the Meade Clinical Centre.

"I'm sure there are good things around the corner and improvements are happening the whole time," Rothwell says before referencing the words of New Thought writer Christian Larson: "Take pride in how far you have come, have faith in how far you can go."

* Waikato Hospital: Our Hospital, Your History retails for $50. Copies are available at the Waikato Hospital library, Waikato Museum, and Age Concern (30 Victoria Street, Hamilton).


 - Stuff


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