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Table of Contents    
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 65  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 448-449

Arthur conan doyle: The case of lady sannox. medical mysteries and other adventures

Department of Neurosurgery, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication10-Mar-2017

Correspondence Address:
Sunil Pandya
Department of Neurosurgery, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.201849

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How to cite this article:
Pandya S. Arthur conan doyle: The case of lady sannox. medical mysteries and other adventures. Neurol India 2017;65:448-9

How to cite this URL:
Pandya S. Arthur conan doyle: The case of lady sannox. medical mysteries and other adventures. Neurol India [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Feb 4];65:448-9. Available from: https://www.neurologyindia.com/text.asp?2017/65/2/448/201849

Title : The case of Lady Sannox. Medical mysteries and other adventures.

Author : Arthur Conan Doyle


Publisher : New Delhi: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

Year : 2016.

Number of pages : 464

Cost : Rs. 250.

ISBN : 978-93-86050-80-9

Mr. Jerry Pinto has brought together sixteen medical mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. None of them features Mr. Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Watson. Nevertheless, Doyle's masterly touch is evident in each of these fictional creations. You will be as riveted by them as with old favorites such as The hound of the Baskervilles, The adventure of the final problem or His last bow.

The case of Lady Sannox was first published in The Idler in 1893 and features surgeon Douglas Stone. Brilliant at his work, Stone is also notorious for his arrogance. Lady Sannox, wife of Lord Sannox (who had earlier earned fame as an actor), is Stone's mistress, no doubt preferring his impressive showmanship to her husband's relative lackluster ways. The principal actors in this tale are the surgeon and the cuckolded husband. I would not like to ruin your reading by providing any further details but can assure you that apart from the thrill provided by all such tales of mystery and suspense, there is much else that will be specially appreciated by medical doctors.

The very first offering in this book, A physiologist's wife, is very different from that featured in the title of the book. Doyle published it in September 1890 in Blackwood's Magazine. Professor Ainslee Grey, the protagonist, is an eminent physiologist and teacher with research publications of such high order as to gain him admission to the Royal Society. He is also a creature of habit. His views on women may not find support in modern times. 'The first great advance of the human race,' said the Professor to his sister who also looked after his home, 'was when, by the development of their frontal convolutions, they attained the power of speech. The second great advance was when they learned to control that power. Women have not yet attained the second stage.' He attributed his restless sleep to 'some little cerebral congestion, no doubt due to over-stimulation of the centres for thought.' On this occasion, the centres had concentrated on his wish to get married. As he informed his sister, 'Matrimony is the natural condition of the human race. I have, as you know, been so engaged in academic and other work that I have had no time to devote to merely personal questions.' At long last, he did aspire to get the 'opportunity of seeking a suitable helpmate.' His conversations with the lady he wooed fascinate us as we read them almost 130 years after Doyle recorded them. Doyle leads us to believe that the professor is all science and no emotion. The latter half of the tale shows us how well we were beguiled by our author's descriptions. The finale is especially touching.

A false start was published in the Christmas edition of Gentlewomen in December 1891, a year after its first issue appeared. At first sight, this does appear to be a somewhat strange vehicle for a narrative on the difficulties in establishing a medical practice. The journal, however, had a reputation for good writing with such individuals as E. W. Hornung (later famed for his creation of the gentleman thief and cricketer, Arthur J. Raffles) as editor. A false start should be a part of 'required reading' for all our medical undergraduates, showing, as it does, that right conduct carries its own rewards, howsoever arduous its early consequences may be.

Likewise is Behind the times, first published in Round the red lamp in October 1894. We are all too prone to dismiss the simple and old-fashioned physician even as we bow before showmen like Douglas Stone. Doyle helps us correct this error by showing us that such a physician's 'hard face could relax and that those country-made, creaking boots could steal very gently to a bedside and that a rough voice could thin into a whisper when it spoke to a sick child'. The first paragraph is an excellent example of Doyle's genius. The rest of this story is no less inspiring. Take Doyle's description of old Dr. James Winter: '…He has the healing touch – that magnetic thing which defies explanation or analysis but which is a very evident fact, none the less. His mere presence leaves the patient with more hopefulness and vitality. The sight of the disease affects him as dust does a careful housewife. It makes him angry and impatient… He would shoo death out of the room as though he was an intrusive hen. But when the intruder refuses to be dislodged, when the blood moves more slowly and the eyes grow dimmer, then it is that Dr. Winter is of more avail than all the drugs in his surgery. Dying folk cling to his hand as if the presence of his bulk and vigor gives them more courage to face the change; and that kindly, wind-beaten face has been the last earthly impression which many a sufferer has carried into the unknown.'

All of us have experienced our first visits to the operation theatre as medical students. Even so, you will find Doyle's description of a novice in His first operation enlightening. Published alongside Behind the times in 1894, it takes us into the mind of a medical student who is to watch the removal of a parotid tumour from 'a woman in the prime of her years' during the early days of anaesthesia using chloroform. The end of this story will have you chuckling even as you reflect on the effect of mind over matter. A different kind of mind over matter experience is described in The curse of eve – also part of the collection published in Round the red lamp. Here, Doyle uses the end of a pregnancy and the difficulties of labour as seen by the 'essentially commonplace' husband, a gentleman's outfitter by trade.

Readers of this journal will find The surgeon talks (published in 1894) of special interest. 'Men die of the diseases which they have studied most', says the surgeon. He used the case of 'poor old Walker of St. Christopher' as an example. 'Walker was one of the best men in Europe on nervous disease. You must have read his little book on sclerosis of the posterior columns. It's as interesting as a novel and epoch-making in its way.' The narrator had served as his clinical assistant. I will leave you to learn about Walker's illness, its development and the manner in which he dealt with it. The other experiences described by Doyle's surgeon are equally interesting.

All doctors have unforgettable patients. We shall never know whether Sweethearts, first published in The Idler in June 1894, is based on one of Doyle's real-life experiences. It describes an old man 'of large frame and fine presence, with something of distinction in the set of his lip and the poise of his head' in a town by the sea. We do know that Doyle practiced in Plymouth and in Southsea, Portsmouth between 1882 and 1890. As Doyle analyses the appearance of this man, who shares his bench on the seaside, one can see the influence of Doyle's teacher in Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell. The old man and his wife, 'She's one of those women, you know, who have youth in their hearts…,'are the sweethearts referred to in the title. I dare you to leave this story after reading it without more than a smidgeon of deep emotion.

There is, of course, much more in this book. I warmly recommend it.


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