‘It’s just glorified plumbing’: incisive interviews with Britain’s surgeons, 1988 | Life and style

Ann Morris spoke to a variety of surgeons for the Observer Magazine of 17 July 1988 (‘Who should put the knife in?’), including general consultant surgeon Jerry Kirk, who said: ‘The character of surgeons has changed because the character of surgery has changed. It is no longer the blood and guts thing it once was.’

Terence English, a pioneer of heart transplant surgery, was ‘tall, imposing and softly spoken’, and ‘epitomises every patient’s idea of ​​a surgeon’ with his coolness under pressure. The crux of it, he said, was that ‘the transplanted organ has to work perfectly at the end of the operation. It has got to take over the circulation immediately. There is no room for error.’

The character of surgery has changed. It is no longer the blood and guts thing it wasJerry Kirk

It was telling that the only female surgeon Morris spoke to, the vascular surgeon Averil Mansfield, downplayed her specialty in domestic terms – ‘It’s just glorified plumbing, really.’

Consultant gynecologist Frank Loeffler remembers the first operation he saw. ‘I was a schoolboy and I thought it was fantastic.’ Interesting that although he had three children, he wasn’t present at any of their births.

Brain surgeon Jason Brice said his kind tended to be meticulous, obsessional and a bit strange. ‘I think we are laughed at by other surgeons,’ he said. ‘It’s a gory subject.’

‘When I started we had to chop a lump out of the brain to make room to get in,’ he continued, slightly alarmingly. ‘We could only do that where there was a bit of brain that people weren’t using at the time. Now we can get in virtually anywhere…’

Brice made it sound as if he were conducting an orchestra rather than a team of medics. ‘I enjoy working. My theater sister says I am hooked on adrenaline. I like to operate fairly rapidly, to whip up a certain amount of tension and enthusiasm.’ That’s not really what you want to hear as you go under…

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