Post 23 The best consultant in the world

The time has come for me to introduce you to Sir William who will feature in several of the tales that I have lined up for you.   He is the doctor I have most admired, the best boss I had when I was training and a wonderful colleague when I became a consultant.   He was loved by his patients, respected by his juniors and was the darling of all the nursing staff.

His full title was Sir William Frederick Warrender but he was known as Sir William by one and all.   I’m not sure why he was knighted but rumour suggests that he chanced to be on duty many years ago when a minor Royal visited the city and developed appendicitis.   The knighthood was his reward for removing the offending organ and avoiding all complications.   The anaesthetist and nurses came away empty handed!

When I first met him, Sir William was in his early fifties, a bachelor with a genial face and a twinkle in his eye.   Despite his years, he carried himself well and was invariably smartly dressed.   Generally he wore a classic charcoal grey three piece suit, a starched white shirt accompanied by a bow tie. The shine on his black leather shoes  would have passed muster by even the most demanding sergeant major.   In the summer the lapel of his jacket sported a single rose, red in colour, not to support any particular political party but to show his pride in his Lancashire roots.

He was always formal and polite.   He held the door, not merely for nursing sisters but for everyone he passed in the corridor, be they visitors, cleaners or porters.   He never forgot to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and invariable expressed his gratitude to the nurses and junior doctors at the end of his ward rounds.  Wouldn't it be nice if all consultants did that? A stickler for courtesy, he regularly reminded his staff that they should not ‘order’ investigations from the laboratory or x-ray department; they should be ‘requested’ with a full explanation of the reason for the request.   He explained that if you supplied the pathologist or radiologist with full clinical details they would understand your diagnostic difficulty and reward you with a more thoughtful and helpful response.

He was considerate and polite with his patients. He took the time to put them at their ease when taking a detailed history or performing a careful examination and always provided them with a detailed explanation of their condition and their management plan.  His behaviour and demeanour was in sharp contrast to the other consultant on the unit, Mr Leslie Potts, who was a tyrant feared by doctors and nurses alike -- but more of him on another occasion.

Although by nature a gentle man, he had a disconcerting habit of jabbing medical students and junior doctors with a blunt forefinger just below the collar bone as he emphasised a point.   ‘Always remember’ he said to me, jabbing furiously, when I once misdiagnosed a case of appendicitis, ‘common things occur commonly.’   The result was a collection of bruises on my chest. When I returned home the next day after a night ‘on call’ in the hospital, I had difficulty explaining to my wife that they were not love bites!

‘No one should be too proud or haughty to perform a humble rectal examination’ was another of his favourite expressions.  If you don’t put your finger in, one day you will put your foot in it’, was another.

Undeniably he was as perfect a consultant as one could hope to meet but it was this perfection, his attention to detail that could, at times, be an irritation to his juniors.   His ward rounds dragged on for hours, and standing at the bedside with aching legs and a list of jobs as long as your arm waiting to be done, whilst he repeated to yet another patient the causes of a groin hernia, was frustrating in the extreme.   He was also an extremely slow, though very careful and safe, surgeon in theatre; another reason I suppose for the varicose veins that I developed in later life.   His surgical speed was not helped by the slight tremor that he developed in his advancing years.   This led the junior doctors, at the Christmas revue, to sing (perhaps a little unkindly) the following lyrics to the tune of  'My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean'.

Sir William’s a mighty fine surgeon,
He tackles his patients with zeal, 
His tremor makes speed none too easy, 
As fast as he cuts them, they heal!

The words create an image in my mind of a wound healing at one end even as it is being extended at the other!

Perhaps it is fair to admit at this point that Sir William is not actually a real person.   He represents an amalgam of the best characteristics of the many consultants I have known during my medical career.  He will emerge from time to time in stories that will appear in future posts in this blog.
Sir William is a principal character in THE FIRST CUT and subsequent novels written by Peter Sykes. They are available from Amazon in paperback or e form. Details on the Home Page

Thoughts for the day
‘He’s a gentleman – just look at his boots’
George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950

 A good leader leads the people from above them, A great leader leads the people from within them.                            
 MD Arnold 1822 - 1888

`Do you have a favourite story about a senior doctor - the sort of tale you might relate to a friend over a cup of coffee or a mate in the pub?   If so, do get in touch using the ‘contact me’ tab on the Home Page.

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  Extract from a doctor’s letter: 'Patient was present when the suppositories were inserted'.


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