Memoirs of the Iodine Surgeon

FOREWORD TO THE BOOK

John Lionel Stretton, born on 20th September 1860, is my great grandfather.

Lionel was the third generation of surgeons in the family. Following his grandfather, William Birch of Barton-under-Needwood, he started his medical career as apprentice to his father, Samuel, in 1877, before becoming a celebrated surgeon in his own right. In his long career at Kidderminster hospital he performed over 40,000 operations and was responsible for many improvements to the hospital and the services that it provided to the community.

In addition to his unstinting service to the local population, Lionel left a legacy for which the whole world can be grateful. He was responsible for the introduction of tincture of iodine to sterilise the skin, several surgical inventions and development of aseptic hospital equipment.

When he retired in 1938, in response to encouragement from his many friends and colleagues, Lionel put pen to paper, producing a book for the general reader entitled “Fifty-six Years a Surgeon – Recollections and Reflections”. Trying to get this published in 1940, he received only rejections and must have been bitterly disappointed that he never saw it published before his death in 1943.

Thankfully, a copy of the manuscript survived and, finally, I am now able to publish it. In the process of bringing the original, typewritten manuscript to print I was curious to find out more about the man, not least to take this opportunity to fully recognise his innovative and pioneering contributions to medicine.

Lionel’s style of writing is still fresh today thus I have been able to leave the original manuscript unchanged. On the other hand, I have added photographs and Addenda to incorporate material that tells more of Lionel’s story, particularly Addendum 1, which reprints papers and letters concerning the introduction of iodine, and Addendum 7, which contains copies of two newspaper articles about him and his obituary from the British Medical Journal.

Lionel was patently a ‘local character’ and much of this character seeps from the following pages. As an example, he was rarely without his top-hat and recalls:

“This loyalty to my top hat has led to some amusing incidents. In the early days of my practice one of my brothers dared me to ride – wearing my top hat and frock-coat – through the town and up the hill to the hospital on a high bicycle – the so-called penny-farthing. I did it, and a most ridiculous object I must have appeared!”

His story tells of very different times and is a fascinating and entertaining read.

Chris Stretton