Dr. Hugh Twomey: A Doctor and My Dad
Author: J. Creina Twomey RN PhD
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Dr Hugh Twomey: A Doctor and My Dad. Dad was born in Ireland in 1920 and graduated from Royal College of Surgeons in 1946. He was a 25 year old doctor who sought to spend a year on a great adventure. His choice was to work on a hospital ship on the South Coast of NL or to go to the Irish Medical Missions in Africa. Dad was more interested in healing bodies than in saving souls. He hated the heat and was happy to endure the cold. He was drawn to NL by tales of the great hunting and fishing. Those stories neglected to mention that you would have no time for leisure pursuits.
He came to NL and served on the hospital ship, the "MV Lady Anderson". The Lady Anderson was a renovated yacht built to cruise the waters of the Caribbean.
It was a real baptism by fire for a new doctor and the ship. NL was poor and the scourges of TB, Polio, and malnutrition affected our forefathers. Communities along the coast were only accessible by boat. There were no other doctors to consult and the evacuation of patients by air was unheard of. What had to be done - Dad had to do. He removed teeth and performed surgery on a kitchen table. He removed an appendix with only the light from a kerosene lamp. Dad jerry rigged an IV to administer fluid to a woman after a very difficult birth. Post delivery the ice had moved in, so he couldn't get to the ship or his medical supplies. Dad had the family boil water and add some salt to make Normal Saline.
Dad was also introduced to the "South Coast" diet - salt cod, salt pork, and salt beef. He lost 50 pounds that first year but Jigg's dinner soon became one of his favourite meals.
While on the Lady Anderson Dad was called to a patient's home. The patient thought he was too young, so dad grew a beard and moustache. He was permitted to examine the patient on the second visit. His beard, which became a mustache, was to prove responsible for many experiences, both good and bad.
After a year and a half he was moved ashore to Harbour Breton Cottage Hospital. It was still fairly isolated but he was in a larger community, on land and had supplies.
In 1949, Dad moved to Botwood and became senior medical officer. He didn't know it then but he had found his home. Medicine was very different 68 years ago. The Central NL area covered a vast area with only eight physicians and only three doctors including Dad performed surgery. The Botwood hospital was smaller than other hospitals but consisted of a group of qualified and caring people with plenty of community support. The records show the amount of work done during those years was almost unbelievable. Nurses gave anesthetics, assisted with surgery, delivered babies and according to Dad ran the hospital. He delivered hundreds of babies, performed all types of surgery. He even reattached four fingers of a fisherman who chopped them off cleaning fish. The fisherman had full use of the fingers.
It wasn't until 1956, seven years later that another doctor was sent to the hospital. He was the first of the many that passed through, most did one year but many stayed two years or more. In the 1960s conditions improved, the hospital had more staff and the Grand Falls hospital was built. The age of specialists had arrived.
Dad loved medicine and Botwood, it was the best of both worlds. He had the facilities of the hospital and by then he knew his patients and loved his work. He treasured the women and men that he worked with throughout his career. The hospital was a reflection of the community as it was staffed by friends, family and neighbours. It was a caring place; a place where nurses and aides eased your pain; a place where the cooks prepared a Jigg's Dinner that Dad is still savoring in Heaven. The hospital was evidence of all that is good in Botwood as the staff worked as a team to ensure that people received quality health care.
Sounds like life was all work and it wasn't, quite. Botwood was then a busy shipping port for Grand Falls' paper and Buchan's ore. The Legion, Lion's club, Kinsman club and Masons were very active. Botwood was a great place to raise a family. Lifetime friendships were born, children were safe and people cared for each other.
Dad was even introduced to hockey and was goalie for the RCSCC Preservers. Ever the sportsman, Dad also was the first to try water skiing. Inspired by an article and by a film, Dad asked the hospital carpenter to build water skis. Everything went well until my slightly large father tried taking off from the water behind an underpowered boat. He was half way across the harbour before he surfaced!
Dad came to NL to hunt and fish and didn't have much time to do either. What he did catch was a tall blond from Montana. In 1953 he married my Mom, Mel Stuewe. Like most doctors' wives she played a big role in his being able to practice medicine as she reared us and took care of the home.
After retirement in 1984 he was appointed Minister of Health and in 1988 he moved on to the Department of Public Works. Dad came home after he became ill to the town that he loved. He returned to a community that had worked, and laughed, and cried with him through births and deaths; through illness, injury and recovery. Dad returned to a town where people of faith had prayed for him regardless of the church in which they worshipped.
How do you measure a life... in minutes and hours and years or in the people that you touch and who touch you? Dad's life was a full one marked with joys and honours.
But the true measure of the man that I loved as my father is in the way that he loved medicine and his family. The true measure of the impact that he had on our community is shown by the love and honour that the town of Botwood returned to him over these many years
He was a doctor and my Dad
Dr. Creina Twomey
Creina I think it to be 100% accurate to say that your father and mother became legends in their lifetime. Many of us went from the cradle to the grave in the care of your wonderful and remarkable dad. Through your commentary you have given me and others a deeper insight into the man who loved my hometown and the love was reciprocated. There are many stories that are floating around as folklore. He invented medical apparatuses where either they did not previously exist or built them where there were none available in Botwood where the need for such was immediate. His name belongs up there with other legends in the medical field including Dr. Olds of Twillingate and the great Dr. Grenfell, so great was his contribution. Neither he nor your mom will be forgotten and are deserving of a book to let the province and the world know what a quality medical family they were back in those tough days because he could never do it all all alone. You have honoured both your parents and our hometown with your well thought out words. Fred Humber
Creina,A lovely story and tribute to the great man who was your Dad.Some of my most cherished memories as a teenager are of the time spent in your home and of conversations with your Dad.A couple that stand out are of him and I in the "front" room with him patiently trying to explain the Stock Market and another about collectables which ended with him showing me some of his.The man didn't need to command respect because he earned it naturally.
I personally have fond memories of Dr. Twomey, having had severe tonsillitis as a small child, and spending many hours at the hospital from running severe temperatures. You father always showed up, no matter the time with a smile on his face and a joke to tell me. Randy Tilley