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