Arnold Gourevitch

 

Former consultant surgeon Birmingham (b Paris 24 February 1914; q London 1936), died from pneumonia on 5 February 2004.

 

Arnold belonged to that diminishing generation of doctors whose professional

lives spanned the second world war and the inception of the NHS.

 

 

He was born in Paris to Russian Jewish émigrés. His family ultimately settled

in Birmingham, where his father, Mendel, became a respected general practitioner in Aston. Arnold attended the King Edward VI School andBirmingham University Medical School, qualifying in 1936 with the conjoint qualification MRCS LRCP.

 

 It was his ambition to follow a surgical career and he achieved the FRCS in 1939, prior to the outbreak of war. During this time, he would on occasion help his father in practice, and he often described these times as being more difficult and frightening

than the practice of surgery.

 

As with many colleagues he joined the Territorial Army Medical Corps prior to the outbreak of war. He served with the Territorial Army Field Ambulance, part of 145 Brigade,48th South Midland Division, and accompanied them to France with the British Expeditionary Force. After being evacuated from La Baule, Brittany, he was posted to Leeds as resident medical officer of the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, before joining the surgical division of No 7General Hospital.

 

In 1941 he disembarked at Suda Bay in Crete. Most of the British, Commonwealth, and Greek garrison had just escaped from Greece at the end of the Balkan campaign, but a German assault on the island was believed to be inevitable, and as a senior medical officer he contributed to establishing a hospital near Galatas, west of Canea.

 

After the German airborne invasion and the order to evacuate the island, many of the remaining troops and the wounded who were unable to leave were captured and interned. ‘Skip’ Dorney, an Australian doctor, and Arnold decided they should escape.

They climbed the wire and made for a dentist’s house situated in the centre of Canea. The pair were well cared for by the Cretans, who put themselves at considerable risk, particularly as the German administration was inflicting uncompromising punishment on any opposition. Dorney and Gourevitch’s evacuation from the island was organised by Special Operations Executive, and they were taken to Bardia in Libya by the legendary Commander Comberlege. Arnold was awarded the Military Cross. Subsequently he was attached to units following the invasion of Sicily and ended the war at Trieste, Italy. As with many others, he had no desire to be part of a peacetime army and was demobilised in 1946.

Arnold was appointed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, with additional beds at the Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge, and Dudley Guest Hospital, Dudley, at a time when the senior surgeon on the firm had first call on the beds in the teaching hospital.

 

He later resigned from these two hospitals after his appointment to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

 

He could be an adventurous and brave surgeon, particularly when operating on children, and he was dedicated to the cause of surgery, though he felt this had waned in later years. He was committed to teaching his students and could inspire and occasionally intimidate, and this could be compounded by a degree of unpredictability in his manner.

 

He had a creative temperament. After acquiring a cannula from Denmark originally

designed for another purpose, he adapted this to intubate the cystic duct during cholecystectomy. This instrument became standard use in the West Midlands. He also designed a stent for intubating oesophageal tumours; although this was not widely used in the United Kingdom it was used in some Eastern bloc countries.

Throughout most of his working life Sister Timmington, who also could be

uncompromising, supported him as ward sister (she died in 2003), and together with the consultant anaesthetist Roger Lee they acted as a formidable triumvirate. As different as chalk and cheese, and yet they formed a mutually supporting team.

 

Arnold examined for the Royal College of Surgeons and produced two Hunterian lectures based on duodenal and biliary atresia. In the early 1960s he spent time in Ethiopia, teaching and operating, and helping to support the development of a new medical school, within what was then still Haile Selassie’s feudal society. In 1973,

and not to universal approval from his peers, he took time off to assist Israeli surgeons in the Yom Kippur war.

 

He was driven by a strong competitive instinct, and this pervaded many of his activities such as walking, golf, and squash. He had a keen sense of right and wrong and, in later years, an understanding from whence he had come – and this invariably translated into supporting the underdog. He was capable of great thoughtfulness and

understanding, particularly when the artistic side of his nature was allowed

to surface.

 

Troubled on occasions with the ‘black dog’, he was supported throughout his working life and retirement by his wife, Corinne. With her support he slipped into retirement without much difficulty. Initially he spent time organising the Sands Cox Society and

the Aesculapius magazine for Birmingham Medical School alumni. He pursued his interest in Hebrew, taking the GCSE many times, and continued with his painting.

His last years were difficult, as he became less mobile, more uncertain, and increasingly dependent on Corinne. He experienced some loss of memory in the latter years, and probably suffered several cerebral transient ischaemic episodes prior to his final illness. He leaves Corinne; his children, Gillian, Naomi, David, Daniel

and Samuel, and nine grandchildren here and in Israel.

 

David Gourevitch, Gillian Jebb, David Jebb, Sam Gourevitch

 

 

Remembering Arnold

Arnold Gourevitch was a legendary surgeon in his day and particularly well known to generations of Birmingham medical students. He was also the prime mover in the founding of the Sands Cox Society and acted as Editor for Aescalapius from the first edition in 1981 until Deryk Darlington took over the reins in 1985. Even though Arnold’s obituary was included in the 2005 edition of Aescalapius, we thought it fitting to present a wider appreciation of his life and we are most grateful to Professor Sir Geoffrey Slaney and Tony Barnes for their contributions.

Professor Sir Geoffrey Slaney writes:

The death of Arnold Gourevitch has deprived the West Midlands of one of its few remaining surgical characters who was widely known and held in considerable affection by many of his surgical colleagues.

Arnold was born in Paris in 1914, his parents having fled the anti-Semitic programmes in Russia and shortly afterwards they decided to settle in Britain where Mendel, his father, established a general practice in the Smethwick area of Birmingham.

Despite the turmoil of his early years Arnold became more British than the British and was intensely proud of his adoptive heritage. He valued our qualities highly and was an ardent advocate of individual rights and privileges and the responsibilities thereof.

He was educated at King Edwards School and later joined the Faculty of Medicine of Birmingham University where he qualified with “the conjoint” in 1936. With the prevailing threats from Nazi Germany in the late thirties he joined the Territorial Army whilst a surgical registrar at the old Queens Hospital in Bath Row and so was mobilised in the RAMC shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939.

His time in the Army was varied and exciting which included the various military vacillations in the Middle East and North Africa. At one stage his Field Ambulance was stationed in Crete and early one morning Arnold was enjoying a stroll with R.K. Debenham, one of our surgical stalwarts who became a Brigadier. At the end of the walk as they turned a corner into the camp compound a bunch of German parachutists rounded the other. The pragmatic “Deb” uttered a typical laconic phrase “crikey, time to bugger off” and so they did. Arnold subsequently rendered exemplary service to the wounded, namely New Zealanders, trapped in the caves on the south coast of the island prior to their evacuation to North Africa in which many died and it is for outstanding dedication to these men he was awarded the Military Cross.

Following his ultimate evacuation he was posted to the 8th Army and had a further series of adventures in the defeat of Rommel at Alamain et seq but he always had an especial soft spot for the New Zealanders as a result of his experiences on Crete.

Following demobilisation after the War Arnold returned to civilian life at a time when many hospitals were replenishing their Consultant Staff which had been seriously depleted during the War. He applied for the post of Consultant Surgeon to the Birmingham Central Group comprised of the General, Queen Elizabeth and Childrens Hospitals which then were the main teaching hospitals of the Medical School. It was a prestigious appointment and at the Interviewing Committee one of its more enthusiastic members was extolling the virtues of Arnold and his distinguished war experience when he was interrupted by H.H. Sampson, another of our noted surgical stalwarts with an MC from the First World War “Sammy” was a rather aserbic and pragmatic individual and is alleged to have said “Mr Chairman, could we have a ruling; are we here to appoint a hero or a “Consultant Surgeon”! In the event Arnold was appointed and at the time there was an arrangement that any appointee to the Central Group would also oversee and help one of the outlying district general hospitals outside Birmingham. In Arnold’s case this was at the Corbett Hospital at Stourbridge and he gave unstinting support to this institution for many years. Much of this involved long journeys by car in the early hours to deal with surgical emergencies but he never faltered.

 

He was an intrepid surgeon who gained a certain notoriety for the length of his laparotomy incisions. In true Shavian fashion he liked big and shiny instruments and the Shumaker gastrectomy clamp was a particular favourite. He regarded his obligations as absolute and nothing else was allowed to infringe this principle, an attitude that he successfully transmitted to generations of medical students among whom he was a popular and highly regarded teacher.

Arnold valued his professional independence highly but he considered that this gave him the prerogative “to have a crack at” anything that merited his attention. On rare occasions the surgical bravura sometimes got him into trouble and another surgical colleague would be summarily summonsed to Theatre One to restore order. Interestingly these very occasional instances were never resented by the colleagues concerned; they were just considered as Arnold’s little foibles.

In 1951 Arnold married Corrine who was a marvellous surgical wife who gave him her total support and also introduced a considerable degree of stability into his somewhat turbulent life. The marriage brought him great happiness and his debt to Corrine was always generously acknowledged; they had two daughters and three sons, one of whom became a Consultant Surgeon. Arnold had a very close and valued relationship with his students and it was typical of him that although already established as a Consultant he insisted on taking the MB., ChB. Qualifying examinations so that “he could look his students straight in the eye” and that he was well aware of their problems. He was strict but compassionate and no quavering was allowed.

The end of Firm parties were legendary albeit that they sometimes became so boisterous as to cause Corrine acute anxiety concerning the fabric of their homestead. Arnold’s devotion to the Childrens Hospital was no less than that to the Queen Elizabeth or Corbett and he developed a special interest in the management of biliary atresia for which he was awarded two Hunterian Professorships by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1962 and 1969.

Although heavily involved in the clinical practice of surgery Arnold had many outside interests. He was quite an accomplished painter with a vivid and bold sense of colour and he enjoyed walking and in his earlier years climbing. He played a very competitive game of squash well into his sixties and took great pride in “being fit”.

Arnold made a substantial contribution to the surgical life of our hospitals and he will never be forgotten by those who worked with him. He was an amiable, warm valued colleague who regarded the practice of surgery as a way of life; indeed it was his life and our discipline will be poorer for his demise.

Mr A.D. Barnes writes:

When we were preclinical students in the 50s we were told of the entertainment provided by Arnold in the theatre at QE. He was the recently appointed surgeon who was having a very large house built in Metchley Park Road. I walked passed it on my way back to the digs in Harborne each day. We managed to get ourselves into the ‘Marble Halls’ theatre to see anatomy in the bloody flesh rather than the formalin smelling sort that we were having during the Smout course. Arnold got a better exposure than we were ever able to do in the dissecting room, and there was then the usually gross cancer that he attempted to cut out and leave a viable patient. At that time of course the investigative techniques were unable to show early disease, even if the patients had been willing to present themselves at an early stage for treatment. QE was known throughout the Midlands as the Cancer Hospital and if you were sent there you would be lucky to return home.

Arnold was at the stage a Firm on his own on WG and in addition was on at the Children’s. Students were short of money at that time (as always) and they couldn’t get house surgeons at the Children’s. Final year students had a very free hand as to how they spent their time as long as they got ‘signed up’ for each session. Therefore a succession of us were acting HS at the Children’s – free board and lodgings and being ‘doctors’. The RSO was very pleased to let the student HS do things expected of a qualified HS, like to remove an appendix, reduce a fracture etc, under the umbrella of AG and VSB.

My next close encounter with AG was when I was RSO at QE. On Monday morning there was the RSO list in AG’s name. He was doing a list at the Children’s at that time. He was due at QE after lunch but there was usually a phone call to say he was delayed – ‘carry on’. So the RSO did and just as you were finishing the case he would come into theatre and invariably waded in by doubling the length of the incision to confirm all was well inside. He then peeled off into the coffee room and leave you to sew up the, by then, huge incision.

After my appointment to the staff as an extra surgeon at QE to progress the renal transplant programme, Arnold was the one who invited me to share WG with him for my general surgery. He and Denis Morrissey gave up an operating session and Denys Blainey an outpatient session for me. This was the first timer that Arnold had a colleague on the ward. There had been the possibility a little before this for Mike Baddeley but it was decided that he was to go to the General. Here began for me a very happy decade with Arnold and Sister Tim. We didn’t always see eye to eye but the disagreements were always short lived. We had a succession of excellent junior staff. An SR and HS on WG, a Reg on the renal unit. Two take nights between us each week.

On morning we found a letter on the door mat at home from Arnold to say that he had gone off to the War in the Middle East, leaving S.R. Magdi (with me) to run the ship. More importantly leaving Corrine who he married after he was appointed to the staff, and therefore was much younger than he (‘knife before wife’ – he thought many of us got married too young) with all the problems of a large young family with school fees etc. He returned intact and just in time to keep his job.

Arnold’s experience in Israel and the Second World War were invaluable at the time of Birmingham pub bombings. He went to the General to act as the triage officer, a role that most of us had not at that stage heard of, let alone could perform.

Christmas was a wonderful time for the WG firm. The Christmas mess show where Arnold was portrayed very kindly with lots of blood and very large knife incisions. The Christmas Day on WG – still talked about by my kids. We all were there for Christmas dinner after we had fed the patients. The Barnes family provided the leg of pork for the Gourevitch family and the remains of the whole turkey fed the rest of us – grandparents and the nurses included. We just about squeezed into the four-bedder.

Monday evening for several years was the time that ‘the art group’ meet in Arnold’s attic. Arnold managed to get

Arthur from Margaret Street to teach us – not that David Clarke, who was one of the regulars, needed much teaching. Arnold’s paintings were very expensive, David’s more restrained watercolours and mine very amateur efforts. At the end of the lesson we descended to the lounge where Corrine provided us with cakes and a drink while we had a slide show. The slides were from the library of the Barber Institute that Arnold had managed to persuade Hamish Miles to release (on pain of death if not returned first thing Tuesday).

Talking of hospitality, there was always a party for each firm of students, as often as not at Arnold’s – more work for Corrine. Arnold enjoyed taking everyone into the right hand front room. It was wall to wall book shelves– they were even across the windows – there were books on all subjects. One wonders how he had time to read them. Many were on “appro” from Hudson’s, that Corrine returned before the bill had to be paid. Books were the material thing that he cherished. One party was at the flat of a mature student on the firm in High Point. We four walked round and the party was in full swing with everyone ‘very happy’. There appeared to be a paucity of booze, but there was an acrid smell. We looked at each other and after a short time walked home.

The students at all stages were very important – ward rounds even Saturday mornings – the dental students – the nurses – you name them. If anyone had a real problem they knew that Arnold would always have time to talk it over with them. Two of our friends and colleagues had the misfortune to have very abnormal babies, which Arnold was able to help them with. When he retired Arnold got himself an unpaid post in the dissecting room as he thought (rightly) that the teaching of gross anatomy was very important and not very well done.

Arnold could not stand Humbug and bullshit. During one memorable meeting of the Division of Surgery there was a marked division of views between Arnold and a much younger member of the division. They went out into the front hall of QE by the Queen Mum’s bust and physically sorted it out among themselves! On the matter of physical, Arnold was keen on exercise. When the Morris Centre opened he was to be found swimming blindly back and forth for goodness knows how many lengths as long as everyone got out of the way. Arnold was a regular at the vacancy club meetings. (This was a group originally set up by the long-standing registers to take the consultants up steep hills and mountains with the hope of creating vacancies on the staff!) Then he would be off running round those streets of Edgbaston and farther afield well after his retirement.

When did he retire? From WG and QE at 65 but Johnny Williams decided to have sabbatical near the snow slopes so AG did his locum at the General. He did of course also go to Ethiopia several times (with Roger Lee as his gas-man) to work on those dreadful obstetric injuries.

One of the last times we saw Arnold was when we came back to Brum in the autumn and there outside Rackhams were Corrine and Arnold selling poppies. Kindness, hospitality and friendship are what we will always remember.

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