The Caribbean has lost a true giant, a real master of the Art and Science of Surgery
From left: Dr Cecil Cyrus and Professor Vijay Naraynsingh.
Tribute
April 14, 2023
The Caribbean has lost a true giant, a real master of the Art and Science of Surgery

by Professor Vijay Naraynsingh

I first met Dr Cecil Cyrus at a medical conference in St Lucia, April 1975.

I was an intern and he a well-established Consultant Surgeon. In spite of his grand stature as a surgeon, he took the time to talk and invite me to spend a week at the hospital in St Vincent. I had little money and could not accept the offer; then he said “you won’t have to spend a cent once you arrive in St Vincent”. He put me in the doctor’s quarters and I spent one of the most enlightening weeks of my entire career.

To be in close contact with a surgeon who could do everything was amazing. In addition to his FRCS, he had diplomas in Ophthalmology and Obstretrics & Gynaecology and had a fondness for Dermatology. He literally did everything – cataracts, tonsils, goitres, thoracotomies, all obstetric and gynecology, urology, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery and anesthetics. Much of this is well documented in his book ‘A Clinical and Pathological Atlas’ for which he was granted the Master of Surgery (ChM) by his University in Ireland.

He would often do major surgery using IV ketamine or spinal anesthesia while a nurse (trained by him) monitored the patient (long before we had pulse oximeters etc). He was obsessive about recording his cases using photography and I remember, when scrubbed with him on a laparotomy for torsion of an ovarian cyst, he put on a sterile glove over his glove, held his camera (which he often kept in the operating theatre) took the photos himself, then discarded the glove and proceeded with the operation.

Professor Vijay Naraynsingh

He was quite obsessive and perfectionist with attention to every detail, in almost everything he did- including gardening, which he enjoyed. He instructed me “young man, you must get a camera and record everything you do”. Now 48 years later, I still follow that golden rule; it has become so much easier now with the phone cameras.

The other striking thing about this remarkable clinician was his meticulous attention to history and examination – for he had no access to ultrasound, CT, angiography and only had occasional barium contrast studies. He also ensured that he recorded a single diagnosis – a differential diagnosis was abhorred and very rare.

His love for his patients, and the children in particular, was unmistakable. It showed in everything he did. He would be pained by a complication or by disease too advanced for his care. For a period without phones, he would go to the patient’s home as needed – at no cost.

At the end of that memorable week, Dr Cyrus invited me for dinner at his home – quite an honour for a ‘little intern’. I had met his wife Kathryn during the week as she was the scrub nurse (and able assistant) in the operating theatre. At home, she was a most gracious hostess. It was a most pleasant evening. We walked around his large yard and saw much of his garden. He can tell a story about every plant. He kept a large compost heap, producing his own ‘fertilizer’.

Following this, we met almost every year as he presented outstanding papers and the annual Commonwealth Caribbean Medical Research Conference. Presentations like ‘The isolated surgeon’, ‘Ketamine anesthesia and the isolated surgeon’, ‘Making do’ were distinctly outstanding and quite unique among the scientific papers. He became very well known in the Caribbean surgical Community for being remarkably innovative.

Around 1988, he asked me if I could come across to look at a draft of a book he had written. I spent four days at his home reading through his work that was so massive that he intended to put it in four volumes. It was so well written, so detailed, so many stories – one of the most engaging Surgical treaties I have ever read. Although it was so delightful and enjoyable, I felt it was so long that few people would read through it all. We discussed it and the final product the ‘Clinical and Pathological Atlas’ remains unique in the world’s surgical literature. It records one of the widest range of diseases encountered by a single surgeon.

So wonderful was this work that when I became Head of Surgery at St Augustine, I bought 12 of these books and gave one to each graduate of the DM Surgery Program with the hope that it might inspire them to meticulously record their work.

Cecil Cyrus, a giant in Caribbean surgery lived as he believed – honest, disciplined, fastidious, obsessive and committed in all aspects of his life and his undertakings. Even in walking through the wards of the General Hospital, he would pay attention to cleanliness, the comfort of patients and their loved ones, proper dress and conduct of all staff – and he seemed to know them all personally!

In 2002, I went to the opening of the Cecil Cyrus Museum – a remarkable collection of memorabilia from Cecil’s childhood to his present career – especially highlighting a wide variety of surgical specimens and photographs of abnormalities he encountered. Apart from medicine, it seemed to record an unusual and remarkable character who documented almost everything he encountered – and that was long before cell phones and computers.

Cecil and I remained lifelong friends and the kindnesses he showed to this junior inspired my conduct to my own juniors.

The Caribbean has lost a true giant, a real master of the Art and Science of Surgery. He stood tall, unparalleled, unique yet humble, thoughtful and considerate. His conduct on and off the field of surgery was immaculate. To those of us who remain inspired by his life, his work continues.
Farewell Great Soul – rest in God’s congregation.