Dr Thomas Henry Learmont Bryson was born in 1930 in Rutherglen, near Glasgow. His father was a leather-worker, wounded in the First World War, and his mother a schoolteacher. He was educated at Cambuslang School and the Hamilton Academy, and in 1948 he entered Glasgow University Medical School. This was not the result of a long-held passion for medicine:
My mother had always wanted me to be a doctor, and I just said ‘No, no, I really don’t fancy it at all.’ When I was in my sixth form and the time came to fill in the forms to go to university – you didn’t have to apply a year in advance, as you do nowadays, you did it a couple of months beforehand – a friend of mine who I’d known all my life said ‘What are you going to apply for?’ I said ‘I haven’t the foggiest idea!’ He said ‘My mother wants me to become a doctor, so I’d better apply for medicine.’ I said ‘Oh, well, I’ll come with you.’ That, more or less, is how I took up medicine.
Anaesthetics teaching in Glasgow at this time was typically basic:
Andrew Tindall was the senior anaesthetist in the Western Infirmary. He gave us three lectures, which gave us a little outline, and then we had to do, I think, five anaesthetics with a consultant, which just meant handing the syringes to them. We had an exam, and Andrew issued us each with a piece of toilet paper, and we wrote the answers down there at the end of the lecture and handed them in. So, needless to say, we all passed in anaesthesia.
He received his MB ChB in 1954, and took houseman posts at the Law Hospital in Carluke and the Glasgow Western Infirmary. Despite the advent of the National Health Service, life at the Western had changed little:
The hierarchy of the teaching hospitals in those days was quite different to what I was used to out in the periphery. My chief came in and did lists in the hospital about three days a week. On those days I had to stand on the steps of the hospital and greet him as he arrived, and escort him, take his hat and coat, show him round the patients and so on. He had two other consultants attached to him, and he would then detail the jobs to be done by these consultants. He always took the most interesting cases, so much that the other two used always to bribe me to hide their pet patients when the ward rounds came along, so that the chief didn't see them. So we did that, and then at about half past eleven we had gentlemanly coffee and biscuits, and after that I had to go down the steps again and wave goodbye to him as he drove away... My first day in the Western as a houseman was a Monday and there was a list that day. I went along thinking I’d be able to assist or something like that. The consultant said ‘Get the patient under, doctor.’ I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said ‘Well, you’re the anaesthetist on a Monday morning.’ The first case I had was a toxic thyroid, which I anaesthetised God knows how.
In 1954 Dr Bryson began his National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was posted to Kenya, and after a few months at the Nairobi Hospital was sent to the Nyeri Station Hospital as a Clinical Officer in Anaesthesia. The workload at Nyeri was not overwhelming:
The anaesthesia component of my work was infinitesimal – I used to do haemorrhoids and ingrowing toenails and that was about it. My day’s work was finished at half-past ten in the morning, and then I was left to my own devices. We found a tennis court in the hospital gardens, and we used plaster of Paris bandages to make permanent lines on this, so we started to play tennis down there. I also played a little bit of rugby for the local teams, and cricket too. After six months I was posted to the Rifle Brigade as RMO, and I protested – ‘You can’t do this to me!’ They said ‘Sorry, doc, but we’re short of a centre three-quarter for the rugby team and you’re a centre three-quarter, so you’re in.’ So I was transferred, and there was another chap who'd been in the Rifle Brigade but wasn’t a centre three-quarter, so he came down. Anyway, I went off to the Rifle Brigade, where I was for about three months, and at the end of the three months they said ‘Goodbye, doc, nice having you.’ I said ‘What’ll the rugby team do?’ They said ‘The rugby season’s finished – it’s hockey now, and we’ve got a hockey player coming up from Nairobi.’ So that was what happened – I was swapped for a hockey player and I went back to Nairobi.
Towards the end of his service in Kenya Dr Bryson met his future wife, then a nurse, when she was involved in a car accident in the Great Rift Valley. On returning to the UK he returned to the Law Hospital as an SHO in anaesthetics. He found the lifestyle most agreeable:
I was enjoying my country life, tootling around Lanarkshire, and I was with a group who were absolutely not interested in doing any academic exams at all, and every night was party night. Why bother with academic study – we'd done that.
However, a colleague encouraged him to take T. Cecil Gray's anaesthetics course in the Liverpool University Medical School Department of Anaesthetics. He spent 1958 as a registrar on this course. At the end of the year he received his Diploma in Anaesthetics, and his Fellowship of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons in the following year. After the course finished he stayed on as a medical registrar at the Walton Hospital in Liverpool, returning after a year – and at Gray's invitation – to the Department of Anaesthetics. At a drinks party in the summer of 1961 he was introduced to a delegation from the Ugandan Ministry of Health, who offered him a post as consultant anaesthetist to their newly-independent government. He left for Uganda in December 1962, and spent eighteen months working in Mulago Hospital, Kampala. During this time he met Philip Bromage, then Simms Commonwealth Visiting Professor of Anaesthesia:
I got a phone call from Entebbe Airport saying ‘I’m Philip Bromage, and I’m exhausted – I want some R & R.’ I picked him up and fixed him up in a hotel, and we arranged for him to go to the game parks and things like that. He was interested to see the hospital, so I took him round and he gave a couple of lectures in the hospital. He demonstrated some epidurals that he had with him, and everybody was very interested. When he left he said ‘Here – I don’t want to carry these epidural needles back to Canada. Take them and use them.’ That was my introduction to epidural analgesia.
Dr Bryson returned to Liverpool in 1964, and took up his old registrar post at Walton. In 1967 he became the first consultant anaesthetist at the Liverpool Maternity Hospital:
There were not many consultant anaesthetists in obstetric practice. I started work, and I had my epidural needles and things like that, but no-one would ask me to play! Eventually I sort of camped in the labour room, and I said to every patient that came in, ‘Do you want me to give you an epidural?’ until they reluctantly took pity on me and let me do it. Now an epidural is a thing that, if it works well, it works well, and everyone says it’s wonderful. Luckily the first few worked well, so then we were inundated and then we started teaching it. After a while I realised that I was the only anaesthetics consultant in the place, and there was no-one I could talk or refer to, and I think other people in obstetric anaesthesia felt the same way.
Around this time he met Mike Lewis, another recently-appointed consultant anaesthetist from Belfast:
At the time the obstetricians and the gynaecologists had a lot of travelling clubs, the Gynae Travellers Club and the Blair Bell Club, so there were all these travelling clubs at which they could talk amongst themselves, and in anaesthesia the neurosurgical anaesthetists had a travelling club. Mike and I were taking about whether something like that might be useful for obstetric anaesthetists. We probably wouldn't have done anything about it, but John Dundee, the Professor of Anaesthetics in Belfast, happened to hear us saying this, and said ‘You should get on with it.’ Because of the position he held vis-à-vis Mike and myself, it was more an instruction than an encouragement. We decided that we would call a meeting of anaesthetists in Liverpool. Mike wrote to every hospital management committee – that’s what it was in the days before trusts – and he said ‘Please give this to your obstetric anaesthetists, and invite them to the meeting.’ I, for my part, to give a little bit of a carrot, went up to Glasgow and chatted to Donald Moir, and went down to Birmingham and chatted to Selwyn Crawford, who were both strangely reluctant to get involved with this at all. I got them to agree to give a lecture each, because they both had sufficient names to draw people.
An advert in the British Journal of Anaesthesia drew further attention, and the first meeting was held in a small room at Liverpool Maternity Hospital in 1969. The Association grew rapidly in size, and in 1971 Dr Bryson was appointed Honorary Secretary. He was made Honorary Surgeon to HM Queen on her silver jubilee in 1977, and was President of the OAA from 1981 to 1984. He lived with his wife in Upton, Wirral. RB
Tom Bryson died at Arrowe Park Hospital on 5 October 2009.
Obituary (18 December 2009) BMJ 2009; 339: b5481 :
Thomas Henry Learmont Bryson ("Tom") qualified from Glasgow University in 1953. On the first day of house jobs, at the Western Infirmary Glasgow, he went to theatre to assist and was told "to get the patient under": he was to be the anaesthetist. This, together with his time on national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, in Uganda, kindled a lifelong interest in giving, teaching, and improving anaesthetics.
After anaesthetic training in Liverpool, he was appointed consultant anaesthetist to the Uganda Government between 1962 and 1964. It was there that he met Professor Philip Bromage, from Canada, who introduced him to epidurals and furthered his interest in obstetric anaesthesia. He returned to the UK as consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Liverpool and Maternity Hospitals, where he stayed until his retirement in 1995. His 30 years in Liverpool were spent fashioning changes in anaesthetics, with the introduction of safer techniques and processes. He fostered a new department in obstetric anaesthesia at Liverpool, and was a founder member of the Obstetric Anaesthetist Association, initially being its secretary and then president between 1981 and 1984.
His other great passion was the army. He always said that he forgot to resign after national service, but his steadfast dedication in the Territorial Army (TA) would belie otherwise. He remained with the TA until 2003, becoming a lieutenant colonel, commanding 307, then 304 field hospitals. He always enjoyed the comradeship and challenges, and seemed adept at installing a field hospital under canvas in a muddy field, usually in the dark.
Always professional, compassionate, and self effacing, his ready wit and unflappable dedication made him sought after by patients and colleagues alike. His talent and enthusiasm were appreciated by all, especially during longer and more complex operations, when his care and skill were at their best. These same traits, coupled with his approachability, made him an able and respected teacher. In later years he was increasingly involved with medicolegal work. His approach was thorough, impartial, and always considered. His input was constructive and thoughtful to the pressures of both sides. Many a court case was unnecessary after conciliation and explanation.
Tom also found time to lecture on anaesthetics in both the UK and abroad, and wrote many articles and chapters in textbooks. He was appointed honorary surgeon to HM the Queen (QHS) from 1976 to 1979, and enjoyed examining for the DA and fellowship of the Royal College of Anaesthetists.
Outside medicine he was a keen rugby fan, passionate about the turbulent history of the Scottish team. He enjoyed camping, walks in North Wales and the Lake District, and the odd set of tennis. He was involved with many local charities and especially enjoyed convivial evenings spent with friends and colleagues at the North Wirral Rotary group.
His passing has taken so much away from those who knew him. He was utterly reliable, strong, and humorous and held a deep love for all kinds of people. He died from renal failure and prostate cancer after a typically valiant fight. He leaves a wife, June; three children (two sons, Neil and Jonathan, and a daughter, Kate); and seven grandchildren.
Former consultant anaesthetist Liverpool Maternity and Women’s Hospital (b 1930; q Glasgow 1953), died from multiple organ failure and bilateral pneumonia on 5 October 2009.