Blood Sweat and Smears

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Dr. Michael Gelfand, doyen of Southern Rhodesia’s medical community, much as we loved him, usually failed to notify us ahead of time of the deluge of urine specimens (or worse) that he was sending for analysis in conjunction with the latest publication he was working on.

Blood, Sweat and Smears

My grandfather’s neice, Celia Gorlen, now living in Jerusalem, got a degree in chemical engineering in Stockholm and worked as chemist in Oslo where she was born.  She observes you “need good eyes, fine hands, a strong back and like to work alone” to make it in the field.  Bench work runs in the family.

Blood, Sweat and Smears

I started out in a three year work-study program for medical technologists in the Public Health Laboratories on North Avenue in Salisbury in January 1964.   The Laboratory adjoined the European Salisbury General Hospital.    The street was lined with mature Jacaranda trees and there was a garden between the semi circular driveway and the thick hedge that enclosed it.  And yet it was an austere sort of place, an imposing whitewashed double story building, each department of the laboratory being housed in separate rooms. I rotated through the different labs.  Lectures by different pathologists were conducted two evenings a week.

There was not a lot of work.  In those days, doctors relied on a thorough physical examination and history for a diagnosis using laboratory tests specifically for confirmation if in doubt in difficult cases.

But on occasion, interesting projects would come our way like poorly prepared blood smears from elephants sent in by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Dr. Michael Gelfand, the beloved doyen of the medical community, author of many books and my father’s mentor on his arrival in Rhodesia, had a habit of deluging us without warning with hundreds of urine samples (or worse) from some remote Shona village to study endemic parasitic infections.

But in the main, we were hard pressed to justify a day’s work, which allowed me time to dwell on the peculiarities and foibles of the personnel.  Dr. Ken Gadd, the Director, was a small man with a ram rod straight back, that kept much to himself at the back of the biochemistry lab, doing his own independent research.  As a government employee he was unable to express his political opinion but his wife more than made up for it.  She was a member of the John Birch Society.  Under him was Vance Carlisle, a Scot, with some sort of thyroid condition.  I was always afraid when he was provoked that his eyes would actually pop out of their sockets.  Nancy, was close to graduating with a Final in biochemistry.  She was no nonsense, a devout Salvation Army member who wore Mary Jane shoes and no makeup and was anxious to get out and serve God.  In the bacteriology department was John Emmanuel a Catholic, a small fat young man with a big motor cycle, mean and frustrated, left behind when his girl friend, Sheelin, was accepted at Cape Town University to study medicine.  There was a wild unclean man, reportedly married to a Coloured, a lecher, who roamed the rooms incessantly and spooked me.  I don’t think he did any work.

Most of us played hockey together, at the country club, like many of the staff of many businesses in the city.  Afterwards we socialized over a cold Castle or Lion Lager.

Mrs. Hettie Leavis, a tiny middle-aged woman, was as far left in her persuasions as Dr. Gadd was to the right.  She was in charge of haematology.  She became my mentor.  I learned to make the thinnest thin smears, the perfect size and thickness of thick smears, stain with our stains made from scratch, besides doing the routine blood counts.  She taught me the stages of the reticuloendothelial and lymphatic systems.  We searched under the microscope for the ring forms of the different malarias, and their moon shaped gametocytes, as well as filarias, trypanosoms and toxoplasms.

With my Bacteriology Atlas in hand I started out enthusiastically enough, hoping to check off bug after bug in quick succession. We made our own media from scratch and poured our own bacteriological plates, but there were precious few samples to plate.  The big  37°C incubator housed just a handful of plates each evening.  Mostly we reported “no growth” in the morning.

 

19 Comments

  • Penny

    Reply Reply July 9, 2011

    Hi Diana

    I enjoyed reading your account of working at the Public Health Lab on North Avenue. I worked there too in the early 70s and some of the people you name were still there then. Dr Gadd left while I was there and can’t for the life of me remember who took over the reins – only that he was a scientologist. We were much busier than you were especially with dozens of stool samples sent over from the, then, Harari Hospital by Dr Timothy Stamps to be checked for E-coli. Stamps eventually became Heath Minister under Mugabe.

    I also went to QQHS and – on the subject of Mugabe – I remember the convicts in their arrow-patterned uniforms coming to scythe the school fields. One day, a crowd of us were sitting on the field listening to 60s pop music on a little portable record player; the convicts were only a stone’s throw away from us and I remember one of the teachers, ‘Stagger Lee’, coming over and saying: “You see that one with the glasses – he will be running this country one day.” We were shocked to the core – but of course he was right – the one with the glasses was Robert Mugabe!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 9, 2011

      Penny, Great to hear from you…there were so many others from my time, I wonder how many were still there in the 70’s? At Harare were Susan Riddlesdale, Glynis Reynolds, Colin Woodruff, Hamish ? married one of the secretaries in the histology lab at Harare Hosp under Dr. Ross at the hospital morgue. Dr. Forrester was the Pathologist at Harare Central labs…Dawn was a wild wild biochemist from CT tripping out all the time. I’ll have to rack my brains to come up with the other names. There was a great guy in Bacteriology heavy set, sort of rugby player, fabulous smile. Mrs Beatham was the secretary….really sour! Remember the faces so well around the tea room at 10 am and 2 pm. I moved into the Nurses Home there it was better than taking the transport which caused problems if you wanted to work late (I didn’t have a car.)

      What an amazing story about the convicts and the Mugabe prophecy, there were so many contenders for black leadership over the years but Nkomo was the front runner in the 60’s, Muzorewa seemed to all but have it in the bag in 1979…. long story!

      Lovely to have you comment…

    • Trevor Gadd

      Reply Reply October 22, 2016

      Penny … were you at the labs when I visited there last around 1974? I emigrated to SA around mid-1974. Timothy Stamps wasn’t one of my Dad’s favourite people as I recall.

      Trevor Gadd

    • Trevor Gadd

      Reply Reply October 22, 2016

      By the way … I seem to remember John E. having a sports car, an MG or something, as oposed to a bike …?

      Trevor Gadd

  • Penny

    Reply Reply July 10, 2011

    Hi again Diana

    Yes there were some wonderful characters at the public health labs! My first boss in Bacteriology was Alan Seymour. He was also a stipendiary steward at Borrowdale Racecourse, so I learnt about bacteria AND racing / betting from him! He started me off processing the bloods for the VDRLs (test for syphilis) and the stools for the ecoli but I passed the test and didn’t get scared off!

    John Emmanuel headed the Haemo lab and was very well liked and well respected in his field. (he married Sheelin, by the way!)

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 12, 2011

      Penny, I remember Alan well, yes nice chap, I learned a lot from him. At the time John was working under Alan in Bacteriology, working on a Final, must have gone on to get a second one in Haematology? I’m glad he found his niche as well as won his bride! Are you in contact with anyone from the Labs? I lost touch with everyone when I emigrated to the US in 1967.

  • Penny

    Reply Reply July 13, 2011

    Hi again Diana. it’s been fun to remember what is now very far back in the past for me! I’m only in contact with one person with whom I worked, but she joined after me so would not be someone you remember.

    Yes Alan was a great character – I loved the Bacteriology element and he played a big part in inspiring me there. I moved on to Biochemistry which, for me, was not nearly as interesting. I left the Public Health Labs without qualifying and went to work for RhoBrew instead!

    By the way, I lived at Umniati and your dad and Dr Brown looked after our health wonderfully well!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply July 15, 2011

      Penny, You’re right not many stayed the course and qualified. The money was too good elsewhere in industry, although quality control work is really routine and repetitive I should have thought. My best friend at Harare, Glynis Reynolds went to Lever Brothers in Durban….I got a Final in Biochemistry from the South African Institute for Medical Research in Johannesburg.

      I well remember going out to the clinic at Umniati with my Dad in the afternoons, as well as other clinics around and about. We had great fun in the car coming and going which I wrote about in one of my blogs. Thats when I realised the African medicine was much more interesting than European which influenced me in transfering from North Ave. to Harare Hosp….(By the way you must have know Eileen Underwood and the Hatchuels at Sherwood Star)

      • Penny

        Reply Reply July 16, 2011

        Hi again Diana

        Yes I did know the Hatchuels. Mrs Hatchuel used always to give me a great big hug when we went into the Umniati store when I was a little girl. David H was later my dentist in Johannesburg – He was a superb dentist but his assistant did rather overdo stretching my mouth open with that water-and-spit-sucker-outer thing!

        Actually the work in Brewery Quality Control was quite varied and interesting! And it kept me in work in various breweries in SA and the UK for many years. But yes – I would have ultimately have been better off sticking with the Medical Lab Tech course.

        • Diana

          Reply Reply July 16, 2011

          Penny, Those “Kaffir” Stores had an ambience all of their own didn’t they! The Hatchuel brothers both did extremely well. Lots of QQ folk did! Mom was a patient of Albert’s while in Jhb.
          SA and the UK must be the top two countries for beer consumption in the world. Talk about job security!
          Shortly after I qualified automation entered the clinical labs and screening for everything under the sun became routine. Technologists became mechanics rather than chemists. Fortunately I got into clinical research at the Medical College of Virginia, and later still serendipitously found myself in basic research in the forefront of the new science of the century: genetic engineering, at Rice University in Texas. It was quite a ride! I was lucky.

          • Penny

            July 17, 2011

            Yes I remember in my time – 1972/3 – we used to lament on how ‘automated’ the private medical lab was becoming and how fortunate we were that we could still do our analyses ‘from scratch in the old fashioned way’. I do remember though that the Biochem tests did require a great deal of care and precision and it was a life at stake if you got it wrong, particularly of you were performing the tests ‘on call’ in the middle of the night. And yes I did that at age 17. (also wouldn’t happen these days!).

            Your work in genetics must have been very exciting – especially in the earlier part of the learning curve!

          • Diana

            July 17, 2011

            Penny, Myers, Friedman and Keneer were the big private laboratory outfit in Sby in my time and as you say once the Coulter Counters arrived in Haematology and SMAC’s were installed the fun went out of clinical work. Night calls were the bane of my life once I moved over to the nurses home at Harare. I was just too available! (And the need was great).
            With the advent of kits I set my Dad’s practice up at Stanley House with some simple routine stuff…blood sugars, ureas, haemoglobins, ketones in urine that sort of thing and Mrs. Tyzack ran the small lab very much under protest, saying always she was a nurse not a lab technologist! But she did a great job!

        • Trevor Gadd

          Reply Reply October 18, 2016

          Both Ken and Barbara Gadd have passed on; Ken on 17/12/2004 and Barbara on 07/10/2011.
          Ken was in fact born in Manchester but lived much of his life in New York and Mexico City with his father. He obtained his medical degrees and Fellowship in Edinburgh and was later awarded the title of Chevalier for his research.

          Ken and Barbara lived out their lives initially at Hartbeespoort and latterly in George, Western Cape, South Africa.

          Regards

          Trevor Gadd

  • Graham Brodie

    Reply Reply December 6, 2012

    I came across this ‘blogsite’ whilst investigating some long lost ancestors and in particular Kenneth Gadd whose name appears in one of the responses. We are related through his scottish born mother although I believe him to have been born in New York.
    It would be interesting to know whether any other of your readers has knowledge of him or his wife. I have only sketchy information on him but believe that he received his medical training in Edinburgh and spent virtually all his career in Southern Rhodesia.
    Can anyone add to the coments made in the July 8th 2010 article?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 7, 2012

      Graham, The blog has been very successful in connecting families and friends. Yes, Dr. Gadd was Director of the North Avenue Laboratory, Salisbury (now Harare) for many years. You might pursue Alan Seymour or Rob Emmanuel on Facebook. They reached positions of authority at the North Avenue Laboratory, long after I left. Alan was also very big at the Borrowdale Race Track. You may be able to trace Alan through that association and go from there.
      As a government official Dr. Gadd could not express his political views, however his wife, Barbara,(?on the name) was very right wing and voiced her opinions often in letters to Salisbury’s Rhodesia Herald. You might also trace her through the John Birch Society.

    • Trevor Gadd

      Reply Reply October 18, 2016

      Dear Graham

      Both Ken and Barbara Gadd have passed on; Ken on 17/12/2004 and Barbara on 07/10/2011.

      Ken was in fact born in Manchester but lived much of his life in New York and Mexico City with his father. He obtained his medical degrees and Fellowship in Edinburgh and was later awarded the title of Chevalier for his research.

      Ken and Barbara lived out their lives initially at Hartbeespoort and latterly in George, Western Cape, South Africa.

      Regards

      Trevor Gadd (eldest son of Ken and Barbara Gadd)

      • Graham Brodie

        Reply Reply May 11, 2017

        Trevor,
        I have only today found your posting of October 2016 so belated thanks for the information. Your father is a second cousin, once removed as his mother Christina Reid More is connected to my More ancestors in Caithness.
        I can now update the few details I have on my family tree and would always welcome any additional information or background to the Gadd family which I have traced back to the early 19th century in Nottinghamshire.
        Once again thanks for the information and apologies for the delayed response.
        Graham Brodie
        Chelmsford, Essex UK

  • Graham Brodie

    Reply Reply December 7, 2012

    Thank you Diana for your helpful suggestions concerning Dr Ken Gadd. I will follow these up and report any success.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply December 8, 2012

      Good luck. Love to hear success stories. Check back

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