A tongue depressor is an instrument used by medical staff to press down a patient’s tongue to allow them to view the pack of the throat. They have been in use for centuries and although most commonly made of wood, Ivory and stainless steel have both also been used to make them from. Wooden throat depressors are usually only used once before being thrown away, the material not allowing them to be easily sterilised for reuse. By contrast stainless steel can be easily sterilised alongside other medical instruments and British medical staff have used both types over the years. Tonight we have a metal tongue depressor to look at:This tongue depressor is a long piece of metal, gently curved to match the contours of the mouth. This example is undated, but does have a nice /|\ Mark indicating British military ownership:Medics captured by the Japanese in Hong Kong had few instruments to look after their patients and this included tongue depressors, which were in short supply even before war broke out, as recalled by a Canadian nurse Kay Christie:
They had four tongue depressors, four wooden tongue depressors and one metal one for a whole ward. All of our boys had a sort of flu, and this was before hostilities began. The Medical Officer was going round looking at their throats and then he’d put down the tongue depressor and I’d take it and break it. After I’d broken three, the orderly, the British Army orderly, said, “Sister, you don’t break those…we boil them and use them again. That’s a ward allotment.”
The tongue depressor was also used in the applications of ointment to the back of the throat, as described in the 1944 RAMC training pamphlet:
Painting the Throat- Requirements: a swab holder or Spencer Wells forceps; a tongue depressor; small cotton wool swabs; throat paint; a receiver; and, if necessary, a torch or other light.
If able to sit up, the patient should face the light; otherwise a torch should be used to illuminate the throat. Hold down the tongue gently with the tongue depressor. Using a swab firmly held in the swab-holder or forceps, paint the throat quickly but gently. If more than one application is needed use a fresh swab each time. Substances commonly used for painting are iodine paint 5 per cent; glycerin and tannic acid; carbolic lotion (1 in 60); Mandl’s paint.