Thursday, 7 October 2010

A medical disaster

One of the problems with being a retired doctor is that ageing friends still ask for your advice about medical matters, but Medicine changes so rapidly that it's hard to keep up, even when you're working at it full time. It can make you appear stupid if for example you're a dermatologist who has never used laser therapy, or you're a general surgeon who knows little about 'key-hole surgery'.

So it is a real joy when younger colleagues lay on a day's lectures on 'Recent Advances' for the Retired Consultant's Club, as they did at my local teaching hospital recently.

How things change when you've not been back for a while! We knew where all the car parks should be of course, but they'd somehow moved them all, and even worse filled them all, so that one drove round for 45 minutes or so looking for a space. We eventually parked somewhere in South Gloucestershire and then used a map to trek back to the hospital.

We remembered where all the different departments had been located but many of them are now building sites. The splendid new laboratories which were eventually built at a cost of several million pounds about 10 years ago have for some reason already been pulled down and something else is being built in their place. Offices for target administrators I expect.

But the consultants who gave the lectures were fantastic. Modern technology is scary though! And that's just the Power-point presentations.

When I was a lad we had blackboards and some of our most eminent Professors seemed to have developed a technique where they turned their backs to the audience to face the blackboard, then drew complicated chalk diagrams on the board with their right hand, which they then immediately erased with their left hand, meanwhile muttering to themselves in a low monotone. No wonder so many of us 'signed in' and then quietly left the lecture-theatre as soon as the Prof's back was turned. Some lecturers were up to that trick however. They posted a porter at the door whose job was to keep the register of attendees, then at the appointed time he locked the door to deny access to late-comers, and to prevent those inside from leaving.

It's very different now. The various buttons and knobs which control the lights, dual projection slides, videos, computers etc. make the control panel of a Jumbo-jet look simple. This does cause its own problems however.

There was a time when there were only 7 wrong ways to put a slide in a projector (upside down, on its side, reversed etc) but there's much more scope for disaster now.

One of the speakers began in fine style, smiling pleasantly as he said he'd never previously had the pleasure of addressing such a dense audience. We chuckled dutifully, although it would have been funnier if it had been less true. He then confidently switched the equipment on and when nothing happened he fiddled about, panicked and finally had to ask the audience to help him. It took 3 people 15 minutes of trying different combinations of the 20 or so leads and 30-odd switches before they got it right.

Never mind, it wasn't as bad as my effort when I was an Assistant Lecturer in Medicine in Edinburgh. The main lecture theatre then was an amphitheatre with very steeply sloping sides and wooden benches, and in the very centre of the steep slope was the projector, which had two carbon rods. These would only work to spark an arc-light if they were adjusted to the correct distance apart, but fortunately I had previously been shown how to undertake this delicate task.

The visiting speaker was a very distinguished cardiac surgeon from USA, and I had been delegated to shepherd him to the lecture theatre and to be responsible for showing his slides. These were in a box and he pointed out to me that they were not numbered but obviously it was essential to keep them in the right order. Moreover they had to be put back in exactly the same order as he was going to give the same lecture at several other medical centres throughout Britain.

We duly reached the lecture theatre, and the place was absolutely jam-packed with the glitterati of Edinburgh academia. I showed the speaker the switches at the podium and ascended the steep stairs to the level of the projector, carrying the precious box of slides. I had to struggle past a row of seated people to reach the projector and then I put the slides down on a small shelf while I twiddled the knobs to light up the carbon arc.

As I bent to my task somebody knocked the open box of slides off its shelf and they clattered noisily down several rows of seats. Of course people stood up to look for them and there was the sound of crunching glass in all directions.

I tried hari-kari but the surgeons resuscitated me, although several voted against it.

1 comment:

  1. He's probably still telling the same story, albeit from a different angle.
    Thanks John.