Friday, 27 September 2013

Dott the draughtsman...

This week, our Project Archivist, Louise, talks about Norman Dott’s skill in draughtsmanship…
As I look through Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes, the many different ways of conveying information, diagnoses and treatment methods never fail to amaze me. From the typed case summaries and charts that you might expect from loose-leaf case notes in this period, folders can contain photographs, x-rays, greetings cards, slides, off-prints and press cuttings.

Some of my favourite things to find in the case notes are surgical sketches, uncovering Dott’s methods in visual form. Some sketches were made by professional artists for use in publication or clinical demonstration, and you may recognise some of the examples below from the LHSA website:

LHB1 CC/20/PRI.682 – artist sketch showing operation for removal of cyst


Artist sketch showing ligature of intracranial aneurysm (from LHSA Norman Dott clinical drawing collection)

The visual communication of his specialism for learning and teaching purposes was obviously very important to Dott: he planned Ward 20 in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (which was to become Scotland’s first dedicated neurosurgery ward, opening in 1938) with artist and photographic studios. However, behind many of the surgical sketches made by artists were drawings made by Dott himself, both as templates for artists to make more detailed representations and for consultation in their own right. Before a motorcycle accident led him to pursue a medical career, Dott was to begin an apprenticeship as an engineer, and perhaps this led to his fondness for using sketches in clinical notes. This drawing demonstrates a procedure for which Dott was a pioneer, in the treatment of intracranial aneurysm by the application of a ligature:

LHB1 CC/24/PR2.3601 (patient details have been redacted)

Whereas this sketch portrays the approach to removing a brain tumour from a young patient:

LHB1 CC/20/PR1.289

Dott was an assiduous record-keeper, not only keeping meticulous clinical notes that were frequently complimented by his peers, but preserving information related to his patients in many forms, from cards sent in thanks from grateful patients to handwriting samples and articles clipped from newspapers. Dott’s own sketches are an essential part of his substantial clinical archive, explaining in visual form the progression of his thoughts and his perception of the life-threatening illnesses which he so often encountered.

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