James Donald Sidey
26 March 1916 - April 2014
It has been difficult to write about Donald Sidey owing to his country of birth, his age and his family, most of whom have either died or disappeared. I will to do my best to record some of the significant parts of his surgical life, particularly in Adelaide where he was involved in the rapid and important transition period in surgical management and teaching and the performance of some operations no longer performed.
He was brought up in Exmouth, England. Following his schooling he entered the Medical School at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington and graduated in about 1940. He was appointed a House Surgeon at that hospital and then volunteered for the RAF and served in the U.K. and Europe.
On return to the U.K. he commenced his surgical studies and obtained the FRCS (England) in about 1950 - the period of the start of the NHS to which many surgeons disagreed and people like Ivor Lewis left to work in Rhyl, North Wales where he carried out his wonderful 'surgical dictums' such as What is it? Where is it? Does it account for the patients symptoms? Why did the patient go to his doctor? Why did the doctor send him to me? Only then could you operate!
With the flood of surgeons returning from the war consultant surgical appointments were difficult to obtain. Sidey was fortunate - armed by his recent FRCS (England). It was about this time that Bob Magarey, (late Sir Rupert - President AMA) was given the job of recruiting a Surgical Superintendent for the Royal Adelaide Hospital. None was available in Adelaide. Each of five surgical clinics was run by a Senior Honorary Surgeon, Assistant Surgeon and a Clinical Assistant who did mostly outpatients. There was one Surgical Registrar (in training) for the whole hospital. He rotated for emergency and night work with the Gynaecology Registrar and the Outpatient Registrar and casualty was run by Dr Douglas Carmen. If anything serious was admitted, the Honorary Surgeon would come into examine the patient and possibly operate. If they became sick or were on leave, Donald would "fill in".
Incidentally, Bob Magarey had just returned from army service as the Senior Medical Officer of the Kokoda Track where he was tremendous.
Donald Sidey was appointed as the Surgical Superintendent, with the roles of teacher, assistant to the house surgeons and students and organiser of the whole of the surgical management of the hospital. I well recall his excellent work although an Englishman was a bit "hard to take" for some of the brash young house surgeons who had never been out of Australia.
But gradually Sidey produced a better order and this was greatly enhanced by the arrival of the first Professor of Surgery, Richard Jepson whose arrival was 'a breath of spring'. There followed the appointment of two Senior Surgical Registrars - Mervyn Smith and Ronald Hunter who had just returned from the U.K. with excellent qualifications and experience.
A Surgical Superintendent was no longer required and Sidey was able to resign and enter private practice as a good general surgeon and also do some further clinical research on the various 'nerve entrapment syndromes', only the carpal tunnel surviving.
He retired at 70 and lived in a coach house in "Doctors' Row", Hutt Street, Adelaide. Unfortunately he lost his second wife and more sadly, from muscular dystrophy, his very good surgical son Peter.
And so the transition period was over and the Royal Adelaide Hospital had developed into a first class world recognised hospital about to enter the final phase of a completely new purpose-built establishment.
Donald Sidey lived on to 98. It was always a great pleasure to stop and talk to him on all manner of subjects. I would best describe him as "a Gentleman Surgeon".
Donald Beard AM FRACS FRCS FRCSEd