New perspectives on Norman Dott...

LHSA's Norman Dott project started to work with volunteers early in the Spring. This week's blog comes from Kirsty Bailey, one of our first volunteers, who gives her own view of the project:

I have been a volunteer on the Norman Dott project since the beginning of March: in this time my knowledge of medical terminology and neurology has vastly increased. It is amazing how over such a short time you can become so familiar with patients symptoms and diagnoses. I have been cataloguing Norman Dott’s case files using Encoded Archival Description (EAD) in an XML editor. At first I thought this looked extremely complicated and intimidating – however, as time has gone on I have become increasingly confident with the catalogue and now feel very much at ease with it.

In my first few days at LHSA I was introduced to confidentiality legislation and NHS guidelines relevant to the documentation that I am working with. The legislation and guidelines assign closure periods to records that contain sensitive personal data relating to living and deceased individuals. This was a whole new concept to me as I had never dealt with patient records before in anything I had previously done.

As I continue to go through the case notes, the more correspondence and notes I read, the more impressed and captivated I am at the level of familiarity and time that Norman Dott had for his patients. In many of the folders there are letters between himself and his patients, all with a distinct degree of kindness and warmth. He seems to me to have been someone who genuinely cared for his patients and who had a sincere concern for their wellbeing.

Some case notes are more detailed and intriguing than others: some patients have very obvious complaints whereas with others there is an element of mystery. Even after all this time I still feel a degree of sadness over a patient if it is noted that they have died. I did not know them or their families yet I always feel upset for those who were lost. Having not come from a particularly medical background I was surprised by the lack of emotion which is shown within the case notes. Although they are obviously clinical being medical files, they can seem detached and void of feeling. The only level of sentiment which is experienced within these files is the correspondence which is sometimes included, which is perhaps why it stands out as more remarkable.

One case in particular has captivated me over the last few months, dealing with a young boy who suffered from a brain tumour at a very young age. Dott operated on him, saving his life, after which he grew up and led a full and happy existence. Within this file there was an array of correspondence from his eternally grateful parents, cards and a drawing from the young boy himself. This drawing of an aeroplane (see below) really touched me. I thought this gesture from the boy was just so pure and untainted. The fact that this family remained in touch with Norman Dott for the next twenty years with continual updates on the boy’s life shows, to me, the affect Dott had on people and their lives.

Sketch of spitfire for case file, 1941 (LHB1 CC/20)
These case files can sometimes contain photographs, usually of tumours which have been removed but occasionally of people themselves. Sometimes they include drawings by Norman Dott, usually illustrating the position of the tumour within the person. These drawings are fascinating to discover as they give an insight into both Dott himself and how he processed his diagnoses. (See picture below).

Dott note and surgical sketch, 1942 (LHB1 CC/20)

In one of the case notes I also have found a newspaper article written by a patient of Dott describing his experiences and remarkable recovery. This article was printed nineteen years after Dott had operated and the patient was as fit and healthy as anyone else, remarkable as before Norman Dott operated he was almost entirely paralysed.

I am thoroughly enjoying working on this project. Each day you discover something different or learn something new. There is such a degree of anticipation with the opening of each new case note as to what will be discovered and revealed from within it.