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Victorian nudes and modern general practice



One of the best things about working in Australia is the access to imaging. As a GP, you’re trusted to order CT angiograms for smokers, MRI scans for first time psychotics and even PET scans for cancer staging. But sometimes it takes a Victorian nude to change your life.

When I was a child, we used to go on holiday to the Isle of Wight. We would pack up the Morris Marina, head down to Portsmouth and get a blustery ferry over to Cowes. We stayed in a caravan and I remember visiting Osborne house and Blackgang Chine, but the special treat was the Brading Wax Works Museum. Outside was a sign that declared ‘you’ll have the time of your previous lives’.

Exhibits at the museum included the murder of the French spy Louis De Rochefort, a foot-tapping Queen Victoria, a 10-year-old chimney sweep called Valentine Gray, and lots of taxidermy.

Without access to imaging, GPs will forever be frozen in time

It was a weird place that made for a great family outing, but it wasn’t the ‘Fee-Jee’ mermaid, the winged cats or the stuffed zebra that impressed me the most – it was the stereoscope.

My Dad would show me two identical black and white photographs and then put them into the stereoscope. The flat images, usually of Victorian nudes (don’t ask me, this was the 80s after all!) would suddenly spring to life, and the rich world of stereoscopy opened up. The pictures had an inexplicable impact on me, and when I tried to describe it to my school friends, I found it was like trying to explain colour to someone who can only see in black and white.

35 years later, and in my consulting room I pin a flat, grainy, black and white image to my light box. This one shows a sinus venous thrombosis and with it my job springs to life, fleshed out and alive in a way that it wasn’t before. Now that I’m trusted to order ‘specialist scans’, I can diagnose and manage patients, I’m not a house officer or a lackey anymore, and I’m not a triage service protecting hospitals and the national budget – I’m a doctor doing the very thing I was trained to do.

It’s a little sad, but without access to imaging, GPs in the UK will forever be frozen in time, just like those two-dimensional Victorian nudes on the Isle of Wight, waiting for the stereoscope that will bring them to life.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Australia who previously practised in Glasgow and Aberdeen