Friday, 5 June 2015

Making Medical Connections

This week's blog is from our Project Cataloguing Archivist, Clair.

Since taking over the Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue Norman Dott’s neurosurgical case notes (1920-1960) I have been getting straight down to ‘cataloguing’ business. However, I have also been inclined to brush up on my Dott facts and histories which help to contextualise the significance of the c.26 650 case notes - as a collection it has huge research potential. My predecessors, LHSA interns and volunteers have already provided me with some excellent research on pioneering neurosurgeon Norman Dott and the activities of his medical department in Ward 20, at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) (much of which you can find in our past blog posts!). This week I have decided to highlight a few of Dott’s medical connections with other pioneering and famous Edinburgh surgeons, many of whom I have had fun looking up in our photographic collections. It is interesting to see how Dott’s personal and professional life was influenced by other medical greats.

Sir James Learmonth (1895-1967) 

 First up is Sir James Learmonth (seen above smoking the pipe). I wanted to find out more about him because he often appears in Dott’s case notes as a physician that his patients would be referred to for extra consultation. As well as being called upon to treat Dott’s patients, Learmonth was appointed Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery in 1946, meaning that he could be called upon to treat the King, George VI, particularly on his visits to Scotland. In 1949 Learmonth did have to treat the King’s vascular disease, performing a lumbar sympathectomy on his right leg. Throughout his career Learmonth held many professorships in surgery at the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh, his papers of which we hold at LHSA.

Harry Moss Traquair (1875-1954)
Born and educated in Edinburgh and after obtaining his medical doctorate in 1903, Traquair practiced as a GP in South Africa. On his return to Edinburgh he devoted himself to ophthalmology (diseases of the eye) and held the Ophthalmic Surgeon post at the RIE. Traquair’s contribution to neuro- ophthalmology was much valued by Dott, who was noted stating that Traquair was, “a man gifted with a powerful intellect…a man exemplifying scientific integrity and comradeship, he was recognised and respected as an acknowledged authority on…visual aspects of neurology throughout the world”[1]. 

Sir Henry Wade (1876-1955)

Possibly the man to thank for determining the future career of a young Norman Dott, Wade was innovative in the field of urological and prostatic surgery, as well as serving as a military surgeon during the First World War. In 1909 Wade was appointed Surgeon to Leith Hospital and it was through this work that he came into contact with 25 year old Norman Dott, after a motorcycle accident left Dott in Wade’s care. Although Dott had suffered multiple fractures in his left leg, Wade decided not to amputate. Had the decision gone the other way, it could have placed major restrictions on the development of Dott’s future career in neurosurgery.

Sir Walter Mercer (1891-1971)

Dott had his fair share of time in hospital as a patient. Through these experiences, it has been argued that they shaped Dott’s compassion for his own patients – a compassion that shines through in the case notes. Sir Walter Mercer, Surgeon at the RIE and contributor to the development of speciality care, performed a leg shortening procedure on Norman Dott.

Sir David Wilkie (1882-1938)

Finally, one of the great Edinburgh surgeons of the twentieth century, Sir David Wilkie, was instrumental in the formation of Dott’s famous Neurosurgical Department on Ward 20 at the RIE. Wilkie provided Dott with adult beds and facilities that had previously not existed for the practice of adult neurosurgery. Wilkie advocated the importance of experimental research in surgery and looked towards science-based surgical thinking. These foundations provided Dott with the facilities to embark on his pioneering career in surgical neurology.





[1] Macintyre and MacLaren (eds.), Surgeons’ Lives. Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh: Edinburgh (2005), pg. 174.

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