2005 saw us in Holland in the spring, and Plymouth in the autumn: a neat historical counterpoint, for Amsterdam was the first venue (in 1925) for our newly-founded organisation, and Plymouth was the latest addition to the rich variety of home visits. Both Holland and Plymouth are steeped in water-related activity and have a flourishing surgical reputation.
Holland’s university hospitals are spacious, well-equipped and forward-looking. We visited three of them: in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. At the latter’s Erasmus University plans are already afoot to replace hospital buildings only fifteen years old (which many British hospitals would welcome as replacements for their own).
Doctors’ hours, training, the scope of State care, progress in minimally-invasive techniques – all came under scrutiny and discussion. As with so many countries, we found our hosts forced to confront the same clinical and financial problems as ourselves in Britain, and there was much common ground. MRSA was a problem, but was kept under control by scrupulous hygiene, isolating affected patients and even closing wards.
We toured Amsterdam on a canal boat, absorbing the history. We saw the colourful bulb fields and gardens at Keukenhof, had lunch at a waterside restaurant then a further water tour, of the Kaag lakes. We also had time to do our own sight-seeing, taking in the RijksMuseum, the van Gogh Museum (with over 200 of his original pictures on display, a vivid tribute to Vincent’s tortured life), and Anne Frank’s house with its searing lessons from modern history, to name but a few of the opportunities for the energetic tourist.
The autumn meeting was held in the Plymouth Moat House hotel, with its magnificent view over the Hoe and the harbour entrance from the high-rise dining room. The Friday meeting, orchestrated by Professor Andrew Kingsnorth and his wife Jane (a local general practitioner), was held in the hotel itself, the diverse programme paying more than lip service to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
None other than Professor Harold Ellis enlightened us about Nelson’s wounds, a historian shattered some hard-held notions about the battle itself, and we had perspectives on naval medical life from a serving medical officer and from those with Antarctic experience. Six excellent presentations competed for the TSS Registrar’s Prize, which was won by Mr Aris Poulios for his paper on Hypermobility (and wound failure).
On the Thursday we visited the shorebase HMS Drake for an overview of the modern Royal Navy with a guided tour of HMS Chatham (a type 22 frigate due to drop a wreath off Cape Trafalgar on Trafalgar Day), and saw how the Navy offered practical disaster support to other countries, as well as training the sailors of Western nations in modern warfare. Britannia still has influence!
That night we dined at Plymouth’s National Marine Aquarium, almost feeling like fish ourselves as flounder and conger eyed us through the huge glass side of a simulated Eddystone reef whilst life-like reconstructions of sea creatures large and small hung high above us. Our final dinner was in the magnificent Mess at Stonehouse Royal Marine Barracks.
The next day we walked on the Hoe to the Plymouth Dome where the city’s maritime history was celebrated, not least by a gnarled mariner (with a rat and a West Country burr, and possibly Munchausen’s syndrome) who talked of his encounters with the Plymouth brethren and with Sir Frances Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Captain Cook. The visit concluded with lunch at the Kingsnorths’ country home with its elegant water garden and views of rural Devon.
The good attendance at recent meetings brings to mind the motto adopted by that famous son of Plymouth, Sir Francis Drake: Sic Parvis Magna .The Travelling Surgical Society flourishes, despite the relentless advance of technology and the pace of life generally.
Our visits continue to enlighten hosts and guests alike regarding modern surgical practice in a shrinking world threatened by global terrorism, making our military connections very relevant.
The TSS has already spread its wings with long-haul air flights to Israel, Washington, South Africa, Singapore and Australia. South America and China beckon despite the huge distances. Our motif becomes yet more apt, a globe encircled by a scalpel now at a jaunty angle as depicted by our web-master Terry Irwin.
He was awarded the BMA’s annual Basis of Medicine book prize, for Perfect Medical Presentations (www.perfectmedicalpresentations.com), his comprehensive overview which puts PowerPoint techniques at the fingertips of every doctor.
Over the past couple of years our President Geoffrey Glazer has been ably supported by Bill Thomas, our equally indefatigable Secretary, for whom no undertaking seems too daunting. Our Archivist Alan Green labours mightily to collate the Society’s memorabilia, be they solid items or photographs which can give life, colour and substance to the written record.
Since the millenium, the Report of each visit has been posted on the web-site. Over the past eighty years the annual Reports have developed from a few pages of case-discussions, to a detailed account not only of our scientific exchanges but also of the many other activities which we share and enjoy.
Ours may be the only travelling group to lodge their experiences with both – or indeed either – the library of their Royal College and the Wellcome Institute. The Report, whether on the internet or in book-form, may prove a unique modern record of both social commentary and international surgical experience, in an age of fabulous technological advances.
Computing, which seems to upgrade daily, has revolutionised our lives with the mobile phone, the laptop, the i-Pod, the personal organiser and of course micro-chips with everything. Perhaps a little light reading of print on paper will prove a welcome relief from all this high-powered hurly-burly.