Nicknames for Aberdeen include the Granite City, the Grey City and the Silver City with the Golden Sands. During the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries, Aberdeen’s buildings incorporated locally quarried grey granite, which can sparkle like silver because of its high mica content. Since the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s, Aberdeen has been known as the off-shore oil capital of Europe. The area around Aberdeen has been settled for at least 8,000 years, when prehistoric villages lay around the mouths of the rivers Dee and Don.
October 2011 was our first visit to Aberdeen, an acknowledged centre of surgical excellence where many members of the TSS gained their early surgical experience. We had a superb academic day in the Suttie Centre in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on the Foresterhill University Campus.
The academic programme was organised by Tim McAdam who had trained in Belfast under our Secretary Terry Irwin. The offshore oil industry has made Aberdeen busy and wealthy, but the memory of the Piper Alpha platform disaster in 1988 still loomed large and had stimulated psychologist Professor Rhona Fin to examine decision-making in tight situations, especially surgical, and this she discussed at length. Then our host Professor Zig Krukowski took a critical look at Evidence Based Medicine, amply illustrated and making a plea for clinical judgement to be accorded due weight. Senior Lecturer Mr Paddy Ashcroft discussed orthopaedic technology, new joint replacements of the hip or knee sometimes failing the test of time: prudent assessment was indicated. Single port surgery was reviewed most elegantly by Mr Irfan Ahmed, and obesity surgery and its challenges and options were examined by Mr Duff Bruce as bariatric services in Scotland could not cope with the potential demand.
Surgical care in remote and rural locations was comprehensively discussed by Gordon McFarlane, one of three surgeons with wide expertise at Gilbert Bain Hospital in the Shetlands, while medical care throughout Scotland was critically examined by colorectal surgeon and assistant medical director Mr Terry O’Kelly.
The Registrar’s Prize was won by Craig MacKay for demonstrating that screen-detected large bowel cancers tended to be less advanced, more frequently left-sided and more amenable to laparoscopic resection than those presenting with symptoms. Of the five other presentations, Colin Richard’s was laboratory based in Glasgow and showed the apparently protective effect of CD8+ T-cell infiltration at the margin of colorectal cancers, independent of any systemic inflammatory response.
The ladies joined the meeting for the final two presentations, on war surgery by two retired orthopaedic surgeons. Tom Scotland delivered a riveting account of the wounds sustained in the Great War and the improvements in care resulting from the Thomas splint and the influence of Aberdeen orthopaedic pioneer William Gray, insufficiently recognised whilst Thomas Jones was rightly acknowledged for saving many lives with the Thomas splint for compound femoral fractures. Retired Aberdeen orthopaedic surgeon Ken Mills delivered with dry wit his recollections of the short shambolic session of surgery at Suez in 1956.
On the social side, we had a talk on Gemstones by gemologist Helen Plumb, organised – as were many of the activities – by Professor Krukowski’s wife Margaret, and the next day the ladies visited Crathes Castle. They then joined the surgeons for the talks on war surgery and the formal dinner in the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum where Regius Professor of Surgery Jimmy Hutchison’s after-dinner speech was a model of one-liners, hitting the collective funny-bone. Lunch was apparently held here the next day for the C-in-C of the Regiment the Duke of Rothesay, after HRH had unveiled a statue in Union Street honouring the Gordon Highlanders. The roads were later opened and we dispersed variously after seeing round the Maritime Museum with its mammoth model of the Murchison Oil Platform and many insights into the life of oil workers and the dangers they have had to face. Aberdeen is indeed an interesting city with a powerful surgical reputation and provenance.
Images above show the huge oil platform supply vessels (Left) and the University Library (Right)