Monday, February 13, 2017

Bringing back Spittel’s ‘Essentials of Surgery’ for today’s medical fraternity

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Dr. R.L. Spittel’s book, “Essentials of Surgery” reprinted and annotated by Dr. Lakshman Karalliedde and Dr. Philip Veerasingam will be launched on Wednesday, February 15, at 11.30 a.m. at the Lionel Memorial auditorium, Wijerama House, No 6, Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7. Prof. A. H. Sheriffdeen,  Dr. Wilfred Jayasuriya and Dr. Premini Amerasinghe, will be the speakers at the launch.  All are welcome.
“We see further afield, because we are sitting on the shoulders of Giants who preceded us.The great objection to new books is that they prevent our reading old ones” – Joseph Joubert (French Essayist 1754-1824).

The editors Dr. Lakshman Karalliedde and Dr. Philip Veerasingam felt a compelling need to re-introduce the whole book as “his ( Dr. Spittel’s) practice relied on fundamentals – observe, record, tabulate, communicate which utilise all five senses.” It would have been futile to update Dr. Spittel’s book written in his inimitable manner. It was within our scope to provide annotations, indicating briefly the advances in diagnosis and management that have taken place subsequently.”
Dr. Philip Veerasingam, one of the editors wrote: “Meticulous attention to detail in his observations makes Dr. Spittel’s book timeless”.
In his foreword, Emeritus Professor of Surgery, (Honorary), University of Colombo A. H. Sheriffdeen writes, “This launch of Volume 1 of the reprint of the book, ‘Essentials of Surgery’  by R.L.Spittel, F.R.C.S.Eng. first published in 1932 when he was a Surgeon at the General Hospital, Colombo, (now The National Hospital of Sri Lanka) and Lecturer in Clinical Surgery, Ceylon Medical College, (now The Medical Faculty, University of Colombo), together with annotations by experts is timely and welcome. It gives the reader an opportunity to appreciate the tremendous strides this discipline and medicine as a whole, has taken since then.
“The book was written in the pre-antibiotic era, when viruses and genetics were unknown, and when anaesthesia was in its infancy and when the only imaging investigation available at that time was X-rays. His objective was to present a concise alternative to larger textbooks, so that, as stated in his preface, that “if fundamental principles are thoroughly grasped by the student, their application in diagnosis and treatment becomes a habit of the mind, then the subject of surgery becomes both interesting and simple”. The book achieves this and more, displaying at the same time the author’s attributes of a true scientist, a good doctor and surgeon whose practice was based on these foundations together with his skills as a good medical teacher.
… “There were no specialties at that time. General surgeons also treated patients with Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) problems, Venereal diseases ( Sexually Transmitted Infections), Orthopaedic problems, Neurosurgical, Vascular, Urology, Leprosy and of course problems of surgical Oncology. In addition to text book descriptions of these conditions, the reader would recognize and appreciate the author’s unique style of descriptive talents.
“The next feature of this launch is the addition of annotations to put the text into modern perspectives. As undergraduates, we were told that 50% of what we are teaching you today would at some time in the future be proved to be wrong. The problem is that we do not know which 50%!” Prof. Graham Taylor, Imperial College, London.A discerning reader would readily note some of these, if not all the errors, in what were at that time in history, truisms in surgery. The annotations give evidence based accounts of modern advances compiled by experts to give a “modern twist” to this absorbing book.”
Dr.Premini Amerasinghe who was gifted this book by her uncle Dr. Spittel when she was a medical student, encouraged a reprint and annotation that would display Spittel’s  descriptive writings.
Dr. Wilfred Jayasuriya will speak on the versatility of  Spittel’s intellect which enabled him to practise surgery in Veddahland and conclusions about “essentials” of surgery. Dr. Jayasuriya considered that professional updating a work through ‘annotations’ was one of the main methods of literary/historical study by which ancient texts like the Bible or the Mahavamsa are made comprehensible and relevant to the present scene.
The book would be an ideal companion for present undergraduate and post-graduate students of surgery.

Dr. R.L. Spittel
The book priced Rs. 1950 will be available at the launch and  thereafter at  Sooriya  Publishers, 109 Ven. S. Mahinda Mawatha, Col. 10 and leading  bookshops