Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Ward at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary

For Liverpool graduates of a certain vintage who may still remember the great man;

Baker-Bates’ advice on retiring from the hospital. It was to buy a dog six months before retirement and on retirement present the dog to the telephonist. “It will be the only one to recognize you when you visit four weeks later”.

A favorite comment was that which he attributed to Henry Cohen who was told that Maurice Pappworth had written “A primer of medicine” to which Cohen was alleged to have replied, “I had always wanted to see my lecture notes in print.”

One afternoon at the Providence Hospital in St. Helens run by those nice nuns, he pulled the curtains around a patient’s bed, then pulled off the bedclothes, exclaiming to us all, “Look, a man attached to a hydrocele.”

He indeed was a remarkable character. He was alleged to have a Luger pistol left over from the war. He was a consultant physician at several Liverpool hospitals and, for free, at “The Providence” St. Helen’s run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who worshipped the ground he walked on. He was prone to starting ward rounds by climbing on the table and asking “Whose the greatest” to which the nuns would all respond “You are Dr. Baker-Bates.” Long before they were fashionable, he wore short-sleeved shirts and took his dog on ward rounds. He once discharged his Luger into the ward ceiling.

He had a little doctor’s bag which contained the most enormous Queen Square pattern patella hammer and a towel. I saw Sir Cyril Clarke say to him on the Friday afternoon Grand Round, “Ah, Eric, I see you are doing neurology on elephants now.” The towel was for ophthalmoscopy. He would put it over his and the patients head to produce an instant dark room!

He lived above his private practice in Rodney street looked after by a housekeeper. He was prone to manic episodes and the police would often find him wandering the streets at 4 am and gently lead him home, knowing who he was. He would wake up his houseman at 4 am other mornings having put the radio by the phone, shouting “Listen to this boy, it’s very interesting.”

He loved teaching and long after his retirement took clinical pathology classes in the mortuary of the Royal Infirmary and applied physiology classes at the med school. He was very good. He brought in patients to the latter (the other ones were dead) to illustrate some principle, and he paid for the services of a private nurse to tend to them while he taught.

How come there are no teachers around any more who are a little eccentric? I think we are all too boring and serious!

His father was a butcher in Berry Street round the corner from Rodney Street and he used to sell BB ox tails mainly for his soup. He was also medical officer for Guinness and had wonderful bottles of export Guinness which he then put into a big jug filled it with lemonade and lime!!!

Oh I remember him very well in the mid to late sixties. I remember one cold February morning driving this four liter Jaguar to St. Helen’s with him and two other students to St. Helens at over 90 miles an hour along the East Lancs Road with all the windows open. As we went over the brow of the hill by Pilkingtons there was a lorry stuck in the road. He yelled at me to stop and told me to change down as well as braking madly.

Once when confronted by a well-known lady of doubtful character who said to him. . . .”Eh pot belly yer cock is hanging out” replied without a trace of irony or a glance downwards “Dead birds madam never fall out of their nest.”

He often told us to remember to “Choose your parents wisely.” Once, in response to a question by a student, he said that “pigs might fly but they’re rare birds.”

His outpatients were highly unusual for the cake, coffee, fruit, and the binocular case concealing brandy that sat on the huge table.

He was definitely bipolar, but they really don’t make them like that any more.

Further reading

EnjoytheFunk. “Baker-Bates-isms.” DrSoupDragon blog, January 31, 2013. http://drsoupdragon.blogspot.com/2013/01/baker-bates-isms.html

Fall 2016



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