A SURGEONS HERITAGE, by James Harpole (Cas.sell, 18s.). DOCTOR AT SEA, by Richard Gordon (Michael Joseph, 10s. 6d.).
Reviewed by W. B. J. Pemberton
UT for the advice given him by his Professor of English Literature in his first year at Trinity College, Dublin, Surgeon Harpole might have provided the world with another 0. Henry; but it would have lost a keen surgeon, and the compromise has enabled him to furnish the lay reader with the romance of the remarkable advances in medicine of the past 40 years. "Literature is a very bad crutch but a very good walking stick, so don't depend on it for a living—think of the famous writers who have been doctors," he was told, and so he stuck to the medical school.
Like all doctors who have been qualified thirty years or even less, the author feels that it has been a great experience and privilege to have lived through a period of so many advances in medical science. One after another, conditions which even in the twenties were hopeless, have been mastered. A young doctor today must find it hard to visualise what things were like before the era of sulphonamides, penicillin and the other recently discovered antibiotics.
The reader is led from the primitive state of surgery in Serbia in the first world war to the miracles performed in the 1939-1945 conflict, when for the first time in history "the number of sick dying in the hospital was less than the number of wounded, because by modern methods, typhoid, typhus, pneumonia, malaria, which used to kill ten times as many as the bullets, had been scotched. truly a triumph for the physicians."
A Surgeon's Heritage is a remarkable book in as much as, from his casebook, he has provided a series of chapters as thrilling and romantic as anything in literature. This is due to the fact that the human element is never forgotten and the reaction of the patient and those near and dear to him have been carefully observed and portrayed; the surgeon has never allowed himself to become a mere technician.
One shares the hopes and fears of the operator, whether he is in the hospital theatre tackling a cancer of the lung or a perforated bowel. or trying to bring relief of pain and comfort to some unfortunate trapped in a London cellar during the blitz.
One rejoices over the little sufferer from tuberculosis restored to his anxious parents with the help of streptomycin, and one is led to hope that the lot of the elderly will improve with the increasing interest in Geriatrics.
If ever Mr. Harpole devotes his talents to writing a text-book of "Recent Advances" in the style of this book it will be a best seller among his colleagues. The small Ulster boy who so promptly answered the query of his father's friend, ."And what do you intend to be when you grow up. laddie?" with "A doctor," has obviously no regrets with his decision today. R. GORDON'S book, Doc
tor at Sea provides more belly laughs to the page than any book I have read for a long time. I might not have been able to say this had I read his first book, Doctor in the House, hut this is an omission I hope to remedy with all possible speed.
"The birds on the Liver building that are unfairly supposed by Liverpool seafarers to flap their wings when passed by a woman of untarnished virtue, wept ceaselessly onto the bleak picrhcad" when our young surgeon joined his ship, the S.S. Lotus, bound for South America, armed with War and Peace to wile away the tedium of a long voyage. He never got past the first page, for it was an exciting voyage, but the volume came in very handy for killing cockroaches. It was with some difficulty he got to learn the fate of his predecessor who "after having drunk two bottles of gin a day for several years in the service of the Lotus, got religion shortly after leaving Singapore and extinguished himself one night in the Indian Ocean through the mistaken impression that he had the rightful ability to walk upon the water."
Of course, the first patient was the ship's doctor as the Lotus was buffeted about in the Irish Sea, nor were the suggestions of his mates very helpful—a pint of sea water or the more sympathetic offer of two bottles of Guinness from the trousers pockets of the second mate.
Highlight of the voyage was the preparation for an operation for appendicitis at sea. Outside, to get a breath of air before operating, he found Chippy, one of the crew, polishing a hatch cover carefully with emery paper. "He'll slide off this lovely," he said. No roses bloom on a sailor's grave. Fortunately at the last moment it was found the victim had already had his appendix out.
I think I have said enough to prepare the reader for their adventures in Santos and Buenos Aires. The best
word to describe this book is hilarious. Not exactly to be recommended as ideal for Lenten reading. but there is a moral for those who seek one, and it may induce some readers to take an interest in the excellent work of the Apostolate of the Sea.