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The untiring pathologists of the 1960s
The pathology porter at my teaching hospital always ensured that the rainproof cover for the wheelbarrow was fastened on tightly before venturing out of the hospital basement into the streets. It would definitely not have impressed the natives in the streets adjoining the hospital were the contents to spill out on the pavement during his short journey to the hospital’s laboratories. Underneath the canopy were the latest offerings from the surgical lists of the day. Subtotal stomachs were big business before it became possible to inhibit histamine and it was a bad day indeed when a pathologist didn’t receive three or four. In those days, now it seems before history was taught at high school and when the Dead Sea was only sick, pathologists were the recipients of whole organs or entire limbs or most of the intra-abdominal contents, and, all too often, entire human organisms. A professor of pathology, on the eve of his well-earned retirement, boasted that he had been gifted at least 25 miles—40 km—of gastrointestinal tract during his career. The paltry offerings of modern clinical practice contrast unfavourably: small discrete pieces of tissue or, more recently, just a few cells, and from the most skilful clinicians, just one cell. A humble clinical colleague of mine says that he is refining a biopsy technique for removing one mitochondrion at a time for examination. It is rumoured in the hospital cafeteria that he has been skipping his tablets.
All too often in the early 1960s, when I was a medical student in Dublin, entire human specimens were sped on fleets of gurneys through the narrow public passageways, for transfer to the care of the pathology department, the court of last resort, all other clinical measures having come up somewhat short despite the …