I worked as a surgical registrar to three surgeons in Dewsbury: Mr Merlin, a local guy, and two visiting consultants from the Leeds Teaching Hospital, Mr Oldfield and Mr Shucksmith.
The last two had only one thing in common; they both were brilliant surgeons. In all other respects, they were as different as chalk and cheese.
This applied to their personal appearance as well as their modus operandi. Oldfield was tall and thin, dressed in three piece stripe suit, and wore a monocle.
One could see that he belonged to the aristocratic class, and was a product of the public school. He arrived at the hospital in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce.
In contrast, Shucksmith was stocky and his suits looked crumpled as if he had slept in them. He drove a fast Jaguar.
In a small hospital like Dewsbury General, they were like two lions, constantly clamouring for the position of king of the jungle.
As a result, they used different implements in the operating room and had vastly different post-operative regimen.
For example, if Oldfield used crepe bandages to cover his operation wounds, Shucksmith used broad strapping. If one used acriflavine to sterilise the skin, the other used hibitane in spirit.
While Shucksmith used large hand needles to close the skin, Oldfield used thin nylon mounted on fine needle and needed a needle holder; and God help the theatre Sister if she gave one’s choice to the other!
When by mistake the theatre Sister handed Oldfield the hand needle with thick cotton thread used by Shucksmith to stitch the skin, he would remark sarcastically. “As far as I know this rope is used in veterinary hospital!”
It was inevitable that these two lions would clash, and it happened once while I was working with them.
Before I narrate the clash, let me talk about the strange introduction I had with Mr Oldfield.
I started working at Dewsbury General on a Monday and had done a ward round with Mr Merlin in the morning when he introduced me to various people as we went round.
In the afternoon, I was supposed to attend Mr Oldfield’s outpatient clinic.
Being my first day, I deliberately reached there a few minutes before 2pm and introduced myself to Sister Sellers, Sister in Charge, who had a broad Yorkshire accent.
As I was familiarising myself with files of the patients, I noticed that Sister Sellers kept protectively hovering until she collected enough courage to confront me with what was on her mind.
She said: “I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, luv, but Mr Oldfield is allergic to ‘foreign’ doctors; so, if he says something funny when I introduce you, just don’t take notice.”
Exactly at 2pm, the ‘big man’ arrived and quickly Sister Sellers stood behind him helping him with his white coat.
She then introduced me by name. “He is our new registrar.” She added. Instinctively, I put my hand out, hoping that he would do the same and shake mine but nothing happened.
Ignoring his attempt to spurn my gesture, I held my hand there and said. “I feel honoured to work with such an eminent surgeon like you.”
He was flabbergasted at my Gandhian approach, and I could have knocked him down with a feather.
He clumsily extended his right hand to shake mine and from then, we had a happy association.
I had an opportunity to see the reference he had given me when I was the executive director at the Aga Khan Hospital, and I was glad to see that it was in glowing terms, calling me more British than some British registrars who had worked under him!
Reverting back to the episode, I want to once again describe the Monday experience, when I was conducting an outpatient clinic with Mr Oldfield.
A Yorkshire old lady, who had undergone piles operation, had come for a follow-up examination. After doing a rectal examination and finding it satisfactory, Mr Oldfield told her: “Everything is fine and I don’t think I need to see you again, dear.”
The patient drew Mr Oldfield close to her mouth and whispered. “Do I need to use the candle?” “Beg your pardon?” Asked Mr Oldfield looking puzzled.
“Do I still need to use the candle to stretch my back passage?” Repeated the lady.
The penny dropped and so did the monocle as my boss frowned.
HELL BREAKS LOOSE
Apparently, Sister in charge of the female surgical ward had mixed up her lines. To prevent narrowing of the back passage after surgery for piles, a common complication, Mr Shucksmith’s patients were advised by Sister on his instruction to use a candle daily to stretch it.
Thereafter all hell broke loose. Mr Oldfield left his clinic abruptly and I followed him. Our first stop was at the female surgical ward, where Mr Oldfield tore strips off the Sister and reduced her to tears.
We then marched up to the matron’s office, where my boss barged in, ignoring the secretary who politely asked, "Can I help you?"
He reprimanded her in no uncertain terms. Our final stop was at the administrator’s office, where Mr Oldfield charged at him.
“Candles are used in your hospital for a purpose for which they are not meant for. The practice is barbaric, perverted, sadistic and unhygienic. Please send a notice to your nursing staff to never use it on my patients.”
FUN AND GAMES
The next day Mr Shucksmith came to do his operation list and having heard what happened the previous day, he remarked: “I hear you had fun and games yesterday.”
“And sir, I am afraid you were the cause of it,” I retorted.
“Not guilty, my boy. I have given up asking my patients to use the candle since a patient of mine, who had been advised on heat treatment for backache by our orthopaedic surgeon, asked me if she could kill two birds with one stone by lighting the candle!”