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Biographical entry Slade, Norman (1918 - 1997)

MRCS and FRCS 1951; MB BS Bristol 1942.

28 June 1997


Appointed to a consultant post at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, in 1957, Norman Slade's professional career as a urologist was distinguished by many valuable contributions; his publications invariably concluded with a pertinent, practical message. His initial studies focused on postoperative urinary tract infection and demonstrated the importance of the closed urine drainage system, revolutionising the management of catheter drainage of the bladder from the open bucket in the ward to a closed system, originally, before PVC, into a large sterile Winchester bottle. Other major subjects included studies on closed renal injuries, vesico-intestinal fistulae, pelvic hydronephrosis and pyelonephritis.

Norman served on the Council of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, and was President of the section of urology at the Royal Society of Medicine before retiring in 1982. His skills and experience of life clearly expanded far wider than his surgical specialty, provoking a curiosity about the man and his background. His arrival at the hospital would frequently be accompanied by a load of produce from his garden, where he often would have been working since dawn.

Born in Bristol in 1918, Norman Slade was brought up in Chipping Sodbury in the traditions of the Gloucestershire countryside. His great grandfather was a 'wunt' or mole catcher, an important person in rural life at that time, with a good market for mole skins, used for gloves, hats and coat collars. He learnt how to net and ferret for rabbits (until his ferret was lost in a large warren), to fish and to catch roosting pheasants using a fishing line with a noose at its end. His early education was gained at the local elementary school, to which some of the children would walk miles in all weathers. The family's next door neighbour was a doctor, Alfred Grace, nephew of the great 'W G', the cricketer. No waiting room was available in those days for patients attending the surgery, merely a bench outside the front of the house, where the doctor would proceed to pull out teeth amidst much shouting. Despite being single-handed, the doctor did not fail to ride with the Beaufort Hunt twice a week.

A scholarship took Norman to Rendcomb School near Cirencester, which had been founded for local and fee-paying boys by a member of the Wills family, the tobacco manufacturers in Bristol. As a boarder in the countryside, he was able to extend his interest in natural history. From school he progressed to medical school at Bristol University, where his education was subsidised by a student loan and a grant, also from the Wills family. Norman would claim that his whole education had been supported by the tobacco industry, although he never smoked.

After qualifying, he spent the first year in hospital posts, repaid his student loan and was then appointed to the Sudan Medical Service in 1943. This provided him with a unique background of medical, obstetric and surgical practice. Problems such as tetanus, including the neonatal variety, rabies, osteomyelitis, cerebral malaria, elephantiasis and cataracts came within his clinical domain. An outbreak of relapsing fever resulted in the need to de-louse a tribe of 100,000. Such challenges would have appealed to Norman.

In the autobiography he wrote for his three daughters, Norman expressed his gratitude for the varied and fulfilled life he had enjoyed in his chosen profession. Finally, in his retirement, he gained great pleasure from his garden, returning to the land to practise the 'organic way', the accepted method in his youth. Sadly, it was in his garden that he suffered the tragic accident in which he sustained burns that proved fatal. He died on 28 June 1997.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England