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Book review: ‘Memoirs of the Iodine Surgeon’ by John Lionel Stretton

John Lionel Stretton was born in 1860 and worked at Kidderminster’s Mill Street Hospital as a surgeon from 1882 until he retired in 1938, having performed over 40,0000 operations. He pioneered the use of tincture of iodine for sterilisation of the skin and yet he is a name that few have heard of in medicine, despite this practice being adopted worldwide and resulting in many lives being saved. It revolutionised surgical procedures and significantly improved survival rates.

Upon retiring, Lionel wrote about his life’s experiences in this wonderfully engaging autobiography, which has remained unpublished in the family archives until now. He recounts not only his medical exploits but anecdotes from all areas of his life and we gain a great insight into his character from this book.  For example, here is an excerpt from one of his speeches to his old school:

‘When you leave school you have to choose your occupation. In making this choice, do not be led astray by the lure of money. Choose an occupation that you can enjoy for its own sake and, having chosen it, determine to excel at it. You will make mistakes. But do not be discouraged; you may learn more from a mistake than from a success’.

From reading this book, we can tell not only that Lionel lived his life to the full, but also that he was a clever and influential man who made great developments in global surgical techniques. An entertaining and inspiring read for medics and laymen alike.

Rating: 8/10

Dr Natalie Smith