As with most laboratories, memories of the early 1960s include tales of struggles with temperamental equipment. Many hours were spent trying to keep the EEL flame photometer going. Although the IL blood pH meter was a great advance on the Van Slyke manometer, it too seemed to be in pieces more frequently than it was together.
All trained staff took part in the rota for the provision of an out-of-hours service, including the head of department. There was no provision for payment for working these extra hours and, therefore, staff came out only after conferring with the medical staff. On one occasion when Broughton was on-call and having to repeat all sodium and potassium measurements several times in order to obtain a result somewhere near the true value, specimens were received from a patient on haemodialysis for, among other requests, a blood pH. Inevitably the blood pH meter was not working. However, the Renal Dialysis Unit (known then as the Artificial Kidney Unit) were in the habit of sending such large volumes of blood and dialysate ("bath") fluids for analysis that there was sufficient to allow the combined pH/reference electrode to be immersed in the specimen to give an approximate indication of the blood pH. (ref: 64)
The Artificial Kidney Unit was one of the first in the U.K. and was set up in the Clinical Investigation Unit by Dr WK Stewart. The dialysate fluids were contained in a bath the size of an old fashioned washing machine and large volumes of transfusion blood were required to prime the coils. If a tube came adrift from a coil or pump, blood would be sprayed all over the walls, ceiling, staff, etc.
Although the laboratory pH meter was more stable than the blood pH meter, it was found to give erratic readings when one particular (pretty) girl used it. Eventually it was realised that she was wearing a jumper made of the then new nylon material and that this was producing static electricity. This problem was solved by placing the whole electrode assembly inside a metal fire bucket! Another instrument, which was subject to erratic behaviour, was the analytical balance. This was blamed on the vibration caused by traffic using a narrow perimeter road, which ran beside the laboratory. A concrete post was installed at the bottom of this road to cure the problem. However, George Noble, the driver of the van, which brought specimens from Arbroath Infirmary (and "all stations east") just, knocked it down with his van each time it was set up. (ref: 64)
The laboratory was one of the first to use Technicon (AA I) equipment. The news of this invention by Skeggs caused a minor panic by staff who feared that they would all be out of work as factory laboratories did all the work on a single "autoanalyser".
Broughton and H.G. Morgan, from the Dundee Royal Infirmary, attended a training course in London. In those days, the cost of the training course was included in the price of the equipment and the hospitality offered by Technicon included front stall seats for "My Fair Lady". On the final day of the course, the participants were sent out of the room while Technicon staff "interfered" with the analysers. Broughton and Morgan were working on analysers, which were back-to-back on the same bench. They found most of the faults, like black tape on the slide wire contact, quite easily. However, when they tried to adjust the base lines on the recorders, the pens went berserk. Eventually they discovered that Broughton's colorimeter was connected to Morgan's recorder and vice versa. (ref: 64)
The department kept a refrigerator and an oven (both white) outside in the corridor. For many months a box appeared in and disappeared from the oven at regular intervals. Eventually it was found that the box contained specimens for the Bacteriology Department (which was at the University: this department serviced all the Dundee hospitals and moved to Ninewells Hospital in 1974) and the porters had mistaken the oven for the refrigerator. No one seemed to notice that for months all the bacteriology reports had been negative.
Also seen outside the department on occasions was a Royal Car bringing specimens from Balmoral Castle. Professor Iain Hill was a Physician to the Queen at the time. Once the laboratory was asked to help with the diagnosis of an overseas guest of the Royal Family who had been taken ill when on holiday at Balmoral. An Addisonian Crisis was suspected and an ACTH test was performed. Broughton worked over the weekend on the urine specimens using a bismuth and borohydride method with appropriate Allen correction on the readings from the Pye Unicam SP 600. This gave results, which confirmed adrenal insufficiency. (ref: 37,64)
Maryfield Hospital - Associated Laboratories and Research Interests
Maryfield Hospital - Combined Department
Return to Introduction / Index