Spectrum 1015. Days of rag and bottle.

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Tono kōrero mai

Jack Perkins speaks to Dr Peter Tuckey about medical practice in the 1930s and during the Second World War.

In 1939, Dr Tuckey was in his fifth year of medical training, and was working in St Mary’s Maternity Hospital in Dunedin. In August 1939, one of the worst snowstorms on record hit Dunedin. Dr Tuckey recalls Sir Ernest Shackleton’s sled being brought out of the Museum and used to haul groceries to people isolated on the peninsula. He was also called out to deliver a baby during the storm – he used skis to get there and back.

After gaining his degree he moved to Whanganui, where he worked as a house surgeon in the hospital. There were only four house surgeons for 180 beds – there being a shortage of doctors during the war. He would also undertake post-mortems, and public health work. For the latter, he would make trips up the Whanganui River to treat patients, often at the Mission stations along the river. He describes the conditions and major diseases of the time (tuberculosis, diphtheria, ear aches) and says they didn’t have the use of antibiotics, only ‘sulfa drugs’. Tuberculosis was rife, and was difficult to treat especially among Māori due to cultural differences. He says the doctor’s relationship with Māori was excellent. They were grateful for what treatment the doctors could offer, especially for the children.

Dr Tuckey tells an anecdote of treating a 16-stone man who was suffering from delirium tremens (due to excessive drinking) and diphtheria as well. He was so large and strong that he had to be chained to the operating table and treated with chloroform. This form of anaesthetic was known as “rag and bottle”.

He tells of an incident in Whanganui, where the young men would drink and misbehave after football games on Friday and Saturday nights, and any that were injured would cause trouble for the nurses. One nurse dealt with this by taking a syringe of chloroform or ether and spraying it on the young men’s clothes. Dr Tuckey then speaks about mental health in Whanganui. There were no drugs for treating dangerous people, who were instead put in a straightjacket and in a padded cell.

He speaks about hospitals in war time. Before special hospitals were set up for the armed services, sick or injured servicemen were sent to civilian hospitals. In Whanganui Dr Tuckey was put in charge of an ancillary hospital set up in a church hall. He tells a tale about a fist-fight that arose when discharging a man.

Dr Tuckey was given additional duties in orthopaedics in Whanganui, with help from Alexander Gillies who would travel from Wellington to assist. He goes on to talk about pneumonia, which was treated with Sulfonamide drugs.

He went to Trentham [Military Camp] in 1941, then was posted to Greytown in the Wairarapa and was put in an artillery unit. He speaks about the later arrival of new recruits. Some of the men had appalling teeth due to lack of dental care - many rotten teeth had to be removed.

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Year 1998

Reference number 25255

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Interviewer
Tuckey, Peter, Interviewee
National Radio (N.Z.) (estab. 1986, closed 2007), Broadcaster

Duration 00:25:34

Date 12 Jul 1998