Reunion roundup

Reunions held in 2002: Class of 1977

13 - 15 December 2002

A summary by David Marais

(Click on the image to see a large version.)

When notice of this impending event came, almost a year in advance, I realised that 25 years had passed since our graduation. Although I had often remembered many individuals by specific triggers of memory, I now was interested in a reunion so that everybody could know what has happened to the class whose first year, 1972, started with police dogs on campus. Presentations from various members of the class could indeed be interesting.

A few members of the class were still conveniently close in Cape Town and contributions from Steve Delport, Leon van Wyk, Ricky Raine and William Bates made it possible for Mrs Joan Tuff at the faculty to proceed. The arrangements made so arduously by Mrs Joan Tuff culminated in a very enjoyable but far too brief a meeting that was held for the graduates of the Medical Faculty of the class of 1977, from 13 to 15 December of 2002. It was an occasion that celebrated the excellent training we received, allowed us to be brought up to date again with so many people with whom one inevitably loses touch, and to reflect on the changes that have happened since those youthful days.

After registration on the morning of Friday, the 13th of December, in the new faculty buildings the tour of the new hospital was undertaken so that those who did not experience the development of this enormous hospital, could see where the medical staff now work and where the students now spend some of their time. The training is now far more community based than it was in our time! The tour did not include the pre-clinical facilities (Anatomy block and Wernher and Beit Laboratories) that are about to be developed further for the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine. Almost as if by deliberate design, there was no longer an entrance into the old Groote Schuur Hospital to remind one of the white (A1) and non-white (A4) side of the hospital. The central entrance of what used to be the trauma unit now is more practicable. The group was taken on a tour through the reconstructed transplantation surgical theatre in which the historic heart transplant was performed only a few years before we enrolled. This event undoubtedly enhanced our perception that our medical faculty was amongst the best in the world. The social function on the Friday night was at the Baxter Theatre, another facet of the university that developed after our graduation.

The Saturday morning was a busy one but fascinating. We knew that it would be difficult to adhere to the scheduled time of the talks. Fortunately, the interest and goodwill of the audience prevailed and we were rewarded with a variety of avenues of development of our classmates. Alan (Zak) Ezekowitz, our class representative of old took command of the proceedings. William Bates started us off with the harsh reality of renal disease in human immunodeficiency virus infection - an entity which was not on our differential diagnosis for any illness in our time of training but that is now, more than syphilis, able to produce almost any clinical presentation. Erwin Eloff showed us some beautiful snow-capped mountain scenes in New Zealand. It was not clear to me whether this was a consequence of an interest in aviation medicine. Erwin's interest was in appearance medicine, and some of the appearances displayed on the beach were not entirely clear to the audience; Duncan Black did not know whether it was the focus of the camera or his own eyesight that impaired the appreciation of the beauty on the beach. Colin Cook had dedicated his time as an ophthalmic surgeon to making clearer the vision in Kwazulu-Natal as well as in the East where he took part in the most impressive, simple and elegant clinic dealing with cataracts at Lahan Hospital in Nepal. Alan Drabkin wove more art and humanities into medical practice, in contrast to the reductionist orientation we had at medical school. The presentation that followed on this was a reversion to chemistry as still practised by David Marais at the faculty! Dennis Newton gave an excellent account of dealing with spinal injuries at the Conradie Hospital. He was on the point of departure to Britain and the hospital that had done so much good is now closed. Alan Ezekowitz has had a transition from immunology to clinical governance. Ann Haw, had a revelation through an unconventional treatment of a bee envenomation and encouraged all to have another look at alternative modalities of treatment. Jonathan Smith had developed an interest in the skin, and could not hide his penchant for puns which were enjoyed by all. Maurice Mars, had busied himself with several pursuits since graduation - most recently with attempts to bring together the health academics of Africa through electronic media. Chris Knott-Craig had done wonders in Oklahoma for Ebstein's anomaly. Ricky Raine changed his intended talk, and with a breath of fresh air, informed us of the merits of orienteering. John Gardner noted that there was relative calm on the health front in New Zealand and we noted that he had involved himself to the point of being radiant about cell phones. We should still retrieve the picture someone took the next day, of John with a cell phone next to each ear! Joe Grobbelaar gave a talk smoother than the best wines that he had come to know so well. The last talk was given by Prof. Solly Benatar, now directing the Bioethics Unit at the faculty. He gave an insightful account of the changes in medicine since we graduated and related these to the changes in society and wealth.

The evening was made more enjoyable by anecdotes at the Waterfront which was, in the 1970s, a forbidden area. There is a photograph bearing testimony to the attendance. Sunday morning was hot but fortunately there was shade in Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge. The small group of hardy classmates proceeded had a good opportunity to talk to one another. It was not a good day for Disa longicornu (drip disa best seen usually at the aqueduct) but a good specimen of Disa draconis was found along the footpath between these two ravines. The lunch at Kirstenbosch was a last chance to speak to one another.

Regrettably, not all of us could attend this meeting; and even of those who came, not all could attend all the events. The deaths of a few classmates made us pause to reflect on their fate: Simon Bax in a car accident, Pieter Snoek of lung cancer and, unsubstantiated information that Arthur Day had died in Australia. Tony Sank contracted motor neuron disease and was very ill in California.

I look back to the occasion with fond memories and realised that I did not have time to speak to everyone - I recalled almost every name instantly as well as many incidents at medical school. I was most impressed at how eloquently and authoritatively our classmates spoke and how each person has become a successful and proud medical graduate, from one of the best medical schools at a golden era of medical science in the history of our planet. Several members of the class made contact and indicated that they could not make it to the meeting but might stop by in Cape Town in the future. I extend an invitation to each to make contact so that we can visit the old places and reminisce. The re-union and any other meeting of the classmates will hopefully stimulate us to pass on to others the learning and wisdom to which we had such a privileged access in our youth.