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The memoirs of Sir William Arbuthnot Lane

Edited with introduction and explanatory notes by Dr David Preston pp. 201. The Amwellbury Press 2009 ISBN: N/A.

Sir William Arbuthnot Lane was one of the greatest virtuoso British surgeons of the previous century, not to mention one of the most controversial: he mastered orthopaedic, abdominal, and ear, nose and throat surgery, pioneered surgical treatment of fractures in Britain, designed instruments still used today, and was de-registered by the General Medical Council.

Shortly before his eightieth birthday, Willie Lane (1856-1943) completed an autobiography dated March 1936 “acting upon the repeated request of his children that I should write for them a rough sketch of my life”. He felt that “it can be of no interest to others”. Upon this work were based two biographies of Lane by his former house surgeons at Guy’s Hospital [W. E. Tanner: Sir Arbuthnot Lane, Bart., C.B., M.S., F.R.C.S.: his life and work. London: Bailliere, 1946. T. B. Layton: Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, Bt.: an enquiry into the mind and influence of a great surgeon, London & Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone, 1956]. Lane’s original typescript (with amendments and made available by one of Lane’s granddaughters) is reproduced as an eighty-six-page appendix in A. Dally: Fantasy surgery 1880-1930 with special reference to Sir William Arbuthnot Lane’. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.  With the cooperation of two other granddaughters of Lane, the present book reorganises and rearranges Lane’s draft, with added titles and additional sections from Lane’s handwritten notes (Some memories of Life on the Staff at Guy’s, Prussian Organisation, Retirement from Guy’s, Interesting Cases, Vivisection, Marital Problems, Marriage and Family Life). As a result this memoir is more user-friendly.

The front cover dust jacket of this hard cover octavo volume features a colour portrait of Lane in officer’s uniform of the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. On the back cover dust jacket is a reproduction, from Allen & Hanbury’s catalogue, of surgical instruments designed by Lane in collaboration with Down Brothers: a screw driver, periosteal elevator, tissue forceps, intestinal anastomosis clamp, bone-holding forceps, and osteotome. Forty-eight interesting illustrations and photographs, presumably from Lane’s personal archives, accompany the text.

For those interested in the medical scene of late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain, this book makes interesting reading. At that time, it was possible for a surgeon like Lane to be a master in orthopaedic, abdominal, and ear nose and throat surgery. As the British pioneer in the internal fixation of fractures and the development of the ‘no-touch technique’, the sections on Fractures (pages 47-59) and My “Laws” of Anatomy (pages 69-81) describe the genesis of Lane’s philosophy and should be required reading by orthopaedic surgeons. Lane’s founding of the New Health Society (pages 151-160) at the price of his own de-registration from the General Medical Council, is of interest to those who believe in holistic medicine.

It would have been helpful to include dates in the biographies provided by the editor of some eminent associates and acquaintances of Lane (Alexis Carrel, John Benjamin Murphy, Elie Metchnikoff, Marshall Hall, William Mayo and sons Charles and William, and Sir James Mackenzie). On page 133 ‘Carrel’ is misspelled five times out of seven as ‘Carrell’! Although a helpful addition to the subject, more attention to details in annotations, the inclusion of an index, and a bibliography of Lane’s publications would have made this book indispensable to researchers into the life and times of one of the greatest virtuoso and most controversial British surgeons of the previous century.

Louis KT Fu

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