I had reviewed most of Dr Cyrus’ books and having done so again for one he considered his Swan Song, I decided to
to look again at one that I treasured most. “A Caribbean Doctor and his little Patients and Family” is a remarkable book that tells as much about the author as it does about his little patients, as he calls them. This work was done out of love, reinforced by a philosophy grounded by over 38 years of medical practice. ‘Dr Grandad’ provides us with fascinating anecdotes of children in the consulting room, their reaction to illness, the stories they told, the letters they wrote later on and the various tactics they used for a multiplicity of things. Really nothing escaped the author’s eyes – their dress, their idiosyncrasies, their reaction to injections. He even touches on the changing names today as many are now African derived as opposed to the earlier Christian influenced ones.
Dr Cyrus has over the years recorded much of what forms the subject of this book and has had great cooperation from parents and guardians of the children he delivered. He appeals to parents and guardians to record “the sayings and engaging conduct of their little ones.” It is difficult to disagree with him that “this will be a rich source of fun, laughter and diversion in later years and make the world a little less unpleasant place.” This is particularly so in our society that is marked by a breakdown of the traditional family and some of the cherished values of the society.
Over the years the author had put a great deal of emphasis in his many presentations on the work of a doctor in a developing society in which many of the facilities and medical services that are taken for granted in the developed world are absent. In dealing with premature babies, in the absence of incubators, he had to put emphasis on and to encourage ‘barrier nursing’. We are provided with information on how he dealt with the delivery and care of premature babies and with details of the complications that arose in the delivery of some babies.
Perhaps the most engaging of the chapters were those dealing with the language of the little children, including his own children and grandchildren. As he puts it, “During my clinics, one of the most fertile sources of fun and laughter, a tonic, was the richness of the language of my little patients, their clever answers, clinical descriptions of their symptoms, their observations, comments and a host of others”, including the letters that they sometimes wrote to him when they were older.
Birth is to him a miracle and “children are the most engaging of nature’s miracles” and the delivery of babies presented “the greatest joy and reward”. This is the kind of love and philosophy that informed the production of this book. Women are also central to the book. To him, “…having a baby is the greatest and most signal achievement of any human being”, women therefore get pride of place. The male’s job ends with the deposit of his sperm in the vagina, after that the woman takes over. The 9-month period in which the mother carries the baby, creates a special bond between child and mother. He postulates that because of their experience that climaxes with the birth of their children, women “are therefore more compassionate, understanding, forgiving, kind and loving.” He thus underscores their potential as leaders.
The book is informed not only by his many years of practice but by his experiences as father and grandfather. In fact, the title of the book was based on a facsimile sent to him on his birthday by one of his grand-daughters, that was addressed to “Dear Doctor Grandad.” He once told me that if he had known before that grandchildren were so much fun he would have concentrated on having grandchildren rather than children.
This book could not have been written by anyone else but by a man who always enjoyed children, something that “has become more consuming” in his declining years. Moreover, he functioned for a large part of his medical practice in a small private hospital where virtually everything demanded his attention. Put with that his gift of having ten grandchildren, the philosophy that permeates this book is compelling. We certainly will agree that children form a common bond between peoples everywhere. “… the first cry, the first breath, as a new existence was triggered off, another miracle achieved and thing of beauty, a potential reservoir of everlasting joy delivered to a turbulent, destructive world, yet a world of commendable qualities in which it must learn to live.”
You will have to be a person who hates children not to be fascinated by this book which tells so much about things we might have observed but never recorded or reflected on. You will enjoy every bit of this book and will look differently at the young children of today and at women, shaped as they have been by having to carry a baby in their womb for nine months, something that in his view, elevates them to a ‘position of eminence.’
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian