Grymm Tooms Travelling Museum
Victorian medicine, The Old Chapel, Upminster, 3rd August 2014



Sunday: Upminster was going to be unique: for the first time in our history as Grymm Tooms, it was going to be a solo presentation by me, Dr Lazarus Tooms. Gemma had only wanted a demonstration of our Medical Marvels department and Proffy and Cassandra were off on one of their expeditions, so it would be a one-man show for a change.

Luckily, I have no fears of public speaking. My challenge was that my mobility has diminished dramatically over the last six months or so and my main concern was transporting my equipment to the venue once I had arrived. My solution was to make it more compact and reduce it to only two containers that needed shifting; my usual wooden case and a folding plastic crate with the rest of the stuff. I had managed to find a new folding trolley which I could use to wheel my gear to the site. We were planning our trip to Zonnebeke in a couple of weeks and part of those preparations was to reduce the size of our museum in order to give Cassandra some breathing space in the back of the vehicle. Our previous trip had left her with no room at all.

Sybil the Sat-Nav took me directly to The Old Chapel and as I was parking the car Gemma appeared. I introduced myself and she helped me move the museum inside. The hall was large and spacious and immaculately restored. Once we had picked my spot to do the presentation Gemma showed me the pictures on the wall which recorded the history of the hall. It had fallen into disrepair and the restoration had only just been completed, which was why she was keen to host events such as this in order to promote the hall in the local community.

Just outside the main hall was the foyer which housed the magnificent pulpit which once was used to deliver the sermons to the congregation. It was a fantastic edifice of carved oak and I had to fight the temptation to climb inside and give a sermon – it was Sunday after all!

I set up just in front of the stage. As I was to be the only attraction this afternoon I had decided to use two tables; one for my usual Medical Marvels and the other for a demonstration of surgery – a thing I hadn’t done since my days in the 4th Texas. As soon as the doors were opened the audience began to come inside. They had been waiting eagerly outside apparently for the day to begin.

One of them asked me if I minded them sitting down during my presentation. I said that wouldn’t be a problem, so they went to the back of the hall and took one of the chairs to use. This being a Church Hall, there was a large number of chairs stacked and ready for use and within moments everyone else had grabbed one and I found myself standing in front of four or five rows of eager faces, keen to hear what I was going to say!

I began on familiar ground, with my Medical Marvels and went through most of my stories; the trial of Mrs Florence Maybrick, the history of the real Lily the Pink and the case of Phineas Gage, to name but a few.

The crowd were eager for more and as it felt like I was in a theatre it seemed appropriate to turn to the surgical demonstration. It also gave me the opportunity to remove my warm jacket on this hot afternoon as surgeons would usually operate in shirt-sleeves. I donned my stained leather apron and began explaining the process of amputating a bullet wounded leg. I had brought along one of the model legs that I used for battlefield amputations for this purpose.

As I ran through the procedure from the first examination of the wound I held up the instrument that would be used. This really was feeling like being in an operating theatre. Firstly there was the problem of assessing the wound – were there fragments of lead still inside? I used the porcelain-tipped probe to show how you could tell bone fragments (which could be left alone) from lead ones (which needed to be removed). After inserting the probe and encountering the objects you would look at the tip; if clean, then it had been in contact with bone, a black smudge indicated lead.

We then moved on to using a tourniquet, followed by the capital knife – which always gets a good reaction (you call that a scalpel? Well this is a scalpel.) and finally completing the job with a saw which looks like a carpenters tenon saw – because that is what it originally started out as. A good number of medical instruments began as workmen’s tools because surgery was often performed by the local blacksmith or barber before becoming a profession in its own right.

I then moved on to the process of sealing the wound and held up an instrument that looks like a button hook – and the name just fell out of my brain. I quickly ran through a list of the more obscure names – bistoury? no, trocar? no, catlin? nope.

After staring at it for what seemed like ages I finally had to come clean and admit I couldn’t remember the name of the blessed thing. It was only on the way home that it came back to me. Apparently the French have an expression for this sort of thing that translates as stairwell humour. It’s what happens when you come up with the perfect riposte to a comment ten minutes too late.

Apart from that one tiny glitch the afternoon went well and seemed to have pleased both the audience and Gemma, which was after all the whole point of my being there. Afterwards she helped carry my museum back to the car and I set off home.

This year seems to have been dominated by sport; the Winter Olympics, followed by the Paralympic Games, the World Cup, Wimbledon etc. At one point my little piece of London was besieged by the Tour de France! And so it was on this lovely August evening that a Triathlon was taking place in Central London causing tailbacks on the A13 as far away as Dagenham, which was where I joined it.

Never mind, I just ran through a long list of cuss words to get the frustration out of my system and put a CD on to while away the long slow journey home. Tenaculum! That was the name I couldn’t remember.

This has been Dr Lazarus Tooms reporting; remember, if you are at Death’s door don’t worry – I’ll pull you through.