Some of Dr Abby Waterman’s stories are funny and some sad. Listen to an episode from her childhood that made her want to be a doctor when she grew up
Chapter 2 Violet has Polio pp 29-30
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‘Woman in a White Coat Chapter 2 pp 29-30
We all caught measles, chicken pox and whooping cough. The only immunisation we had was against smallpox – it left an ugly scar on your upper arm.
There was an outbreak of Infantile Paralysis (Polio) every summer and in all the schools there were children with leg braces to support limbs damaged by the disease. It wasn’t until 1955 that Dr Salk’s anti-polio vaccine became available.
When I gave presentations about my work on cancer diagnosis I used acetate slides. First I had to persuade a more-or-less unwilling secretary to type up my acetate slides, get audio-visual to make them up and then, as a junior trainee pathologist, rehearse in front of my irascible Head of Department. As a consultant pathologist, I no longer had to rehearse in front of my boss though I got my youngest child, Jane, to work my slide projector when I rehearsed the timing. She gave a wonderful gobbled-gook impersonation of me – ‘Next slide please’ and all.
Now it’s so easy with PowerPoint with yet another very good tutor at the Mary Ward Centre. taking the course was stimulated by being asked by my local library to give a presentation on writing my memoir Woman in a White Coat. I’ve been warned by my expert son, Simon, not to incorporate music or animation though they are next week’s topics.
I’ve always made lists – topics to discuss lists, lecture lists, shopping lists, to-do lists, what to take on holiday lists, ingredients for a cake lists, every type of list you can imagine.
Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto charts the course of an attempt to introduce an Aviation Pilot-type checklist into major surgery. The results show that in hospitals from the richest, best equipped in the USA to the poorest in Africa and India, the use of a checklist before commencing major surgery saves lives and reduces complications. But there was resistance to their introduction, as there is resistance to the use of checklists in other fields.
For me, one of the most interesting aspects was the requirement to get all those involved to feel themselves a team, with input from the lowliest member. I suspect that most of us introduce checklists top down. With more import from the most junior member of the team maybe we could have done much better – at home, in our John Dobbie toyshops, in our dental practice and in the pathology departments where I worked.
There was a Steiff shop in the arcade near the hotel where we stayed in Hamburg. It was full of bears of all different shapes and sizes, some clothed and some not. There were other stuffed animal toys too but it is the teddy bear with that we most associate with the Steiff name. We bought them for our own children but they were much too expensive for us to stock in our John Dobbie toyshop. We stocked a selection of very nice teddy bears but at affordable prices.
Margarete Steiff began the company in 1880 and was later joined by her brother Fritz and nephew Richard. She originally made elephant pincushions but later made a variety of animal toys. It was her nephew Richard who created the famous teddy bear. The ‘button in ear’ was devised as a distinctive brand feature to stop other toys being passed off as Steiff toys.
Excerpt from Woman in a White Coat Writing about of teddy bears reminds me of one of the saddest episodes in my memoir involving the death of a young child.
With only two days left before Christmas, the pathology department at St Jude’s Cancer Hospital had been quiet all day. The surgeons put off non-urgent operations until after Christmas, so that patients could spend the holiday at home. There had been very few specimens to process and most of the staff had gone home early to get in some last minute shopping. By four o’clock the department was deserted. I had already got one arm in the sleeve of my coat when the phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it but having four children I always worried in case it was about one of them. ‘Hello,’ I said ‘Pathology department. Dr Waterman speaking.’ ‘Steven here, Dr Waterman. I think you’re on for post mortems. Can you come down? I’m all ready for you.’ ‘Oh Steven, can’t it wait until the morning? I know tomorrow’s Saturday and Christmas Eve, but I don’t mind coming in specially. I need to get over to Hamleys and buy a present for my neighbour’s new baby before they close.’ Continue reading Fabulous Steiff Shop, Hamburg→
Had a wonderful 3 months working at NIH – libraries open 7am – midnight weekdays and open on Sundays. Our London medical school library was open 9.30am – 6pm weekdays only. The facilities were incredible. There was a supermarket in the basement – not for food, but for chemicals and laboratory equipment – test tubes, beakers, retort stands. You just needed your departmental card and a trolley. I was used to waiting 6 weeks just for a new measuring cylinder.
From my memoir Woman in a White Coat I’d got a bus out to the local shopping mall and on the way back I was the only passenger. The driver picked up on my English accent. ‘I’ve been to good old England,’ he said. ‘Did the whole country in a week. Where you staying while you’re here?’ I told him I was lodging in Julian Road. ‘No problem,’ he said, turning off the main road. He dropped me right at the door. ‘Glad to be of service, Ma’am,’ he said, waving goodbye. After six weeks at NIH I flew to London for a long weekend. On my return to Washington, I was scared when the driver of my taxi coming from the airport turned off the freeway. ‘Shouldn’t we be going straight on?’ I asked. ‘Just have to get some gas.’ I was sure that this was it – the day I’d be robbed, raped or murdered, or all three. I was wrong. After paying for the petrol ‘Well, that turnoff is down to me. I’ll switch the meter off now’ he said. He even carried in my case for me.