Thursday, 30 August 2012


We were students at Guys in the golden years:  how desperately sad to see it now as just an annex of St Thomas'    We also had the great advantage of spending all our time (except for fevers at Hither Green and Obstetrics) at the Guy's Site.   KCL ( Guy's Kings and St Thomas' ) now have over 400 students each year and they do not have any great allegiance to anywhere.

Others have commented on the very able but very odd people who taught us for 2nd MB, including Roger Warwick, the often inebriated Peter Williams, the very gentlemanly Prof. Spurrell, the incomprehensible Gent, Jack Joseph and the terrifying Aggie Shaw, who was an international rally driver (Monte Carlo, Tulip Rally, Alpine Rally etc) in her Sunbeam Talbot – she later asked me if I would like to buy it, but unfortunately not affordable.

 One clear memory is having lunch in the lower spit with Chips Atkins and Mike Jacoby and getting a message that Jack Hunt wanted to see me in his office at 2.00. I didn’t think he even knew who I was and wondered if my medical career was coming to a premature end. He said ‘I advise you to pass 2nd MB’. I said that was my intention. He went on to tell me that I had so alienated several members of the staff, that if I failed I would probably not be given a second chance, and that he was warning me because he thought that medicine needed its share of difficult and obstreperous doctors.

The preclinical course run by George Scott was a highlight of the clinical course; I was subsequently his first HP when he was appointed to the staff in Feb 1963. After qualification I was Noel Glover’s HS, an excellent and very sound surgeon. I was alone among the HSs in never having to get out of bed after an operation day. Then Casualty with Patrick Clarkson, already showing the signs of atherosclerosis and I then followed Roy Weller as Willie Mann’s HP. We got on very well after I had led him to a patient and told him that this patient had pneumonia. He gave a brilliant dissertation and demonstrated all the physical signs, but on the wrong side. When we went to look at the X-rays I put up the CXR the wrong way round, he saw this immediately and after a brief pause carried on, I don’t think anybody else noticed. I then followed John Simpson as the neurological HP with Dr.McArdle and Dr.Mackenzie. The ward sister on Barnabas was Nora Relihan, who threatened to take 6 months leave when she heard of my appointment, but we became good friends and much later I recruited her to work in the Neurology Department as Peter Payans’ nurse when she retired from the wards. She spent 50 years at Guy’s without a single day of sick leave. Then 6 months in Nuffield waiting for a junior registrar job. While there I had a stand-up row with Lord Brock, when he ran out of expletives said ‘I trust, Doctor, that you do not wish to be a surgeon’.

 I spent the next year as a junior lecturer with John Butterfield. He expected everyone in his department to do some research. When it was clear that I had no ideas of my own, he suggested an experiment measuring forearm metabolism using A-V differences and plethysmography. I said that if I was going to measure blood flow anywhere, I would prefer to measure it in the brain. A rather facetious remark as I had no idea that it was possible; but in Hunt’s House there was Norman Veall, a physicist who had developed a technique and needed a clinician to use it. What a bonanza to be the only person in the world to have an atraumatic method of measuring cerebral blood flow. I spent the following year with Norman on his MRC Unit. An MD and numerous papers followed, leading to 15 years on the editorial board of ‘Stroke’, invitations to lecture at 70 Universities overseas and a MRC fellowship in the USA. I had always wanted to be a neurologist, and my next job was the registrar on the neurology firm; so I had been lucky enough to have been at Guy’s continuously for 5 years after qualification. On to The National Hospital for Neurology (Queen Square) for the most unhappy time in my medical career. Unbelievably hierarchical and the quality of neurology not always as good as I had expected. So I was very relieved to be offered a job in Newcastle by John Walton (later Lord Walton) as I was quite expecting to be thrown out of Queen Square.

 After 3 years in Newcastle and a year in the US, I returned to Guy’s in 1972 and followed Ian MacKenzie on the staff, retiring in 2003 having had a most enjoyable three decades, apart from finding myself on the Guy’s Executive at the time of the merger, and then on the Executive of the combined Trust – a very difficult and unhappy time. Soon after retirement, Omar Shaheen co-opted me onto the Friends of Guy’s Hospital committee, and I became Chairman the following year. Bob Knight died suddenly in 2005, Marion Knight requested ‘no flowers please, donations to The Friends’. We received £18,000 and the Special Trustees were persuaded to match this, so we had enough money to fulfil Bobs’ long held wish to have a statue of John Keats at Guy’s. You can see Keats sitting in the old London Bridge alcove in the East Quadrangle; it is the only statue of Keats anywhere in the world and was unveiled by the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Go close to read the memorial to Bob which is flat on the ground.

Since retiring from the NHS, I have continued as Consultant Advisor in Neurology to the CAA. I have had a pilots licence (both CAA and FAA) since 1982 and now on my fourth aircraft. For the last five years I have spent 2 weeks/year teaching at the Palestinian University in East Jerusalem. They have about 40 students/year and no resident neurologist until just now. I continue to teach at Queen Square and KCL. I have been fortunate to have travelled all over the world and taken a special interest in the pre-Columbian Mayan civilisation and more recently in the Khmers (Cambodia). This led to an interest in Hindu temple architecture and sculpture and numerous trips to India. I lecture on these topics at SOAS and for NADFAS. I have also done two extensive lecture tours in Australia. Finally, after more than 50 years as a confirmed bachelor and to the amazement of my friends and family I have just got married and my wife, Lara, will be at the reunion.           Michael O'Brien.

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