Saturday, 26 February 2011

A grateful St Dunstan's

Above: The St Dunstan's centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton holds introductory training and rehabilitation weeks for blinded ex-servicemen and women as well as offering respite care, holidays and a range of recreational and social activities. St Dunstaners in the North of the country can take advantage of the charity's residential centre in Sheffield which offers introductory weeks, computer and rehabilitation courses. The new Llandudno centre is due to open once design and refurbishment has been completed, offering excellent facilities to help meet the needs of ever-increasing numbers of St Dunstaners

I continue to be absorbed by different aspects of Surgeon Commander Murray Levick's life. It's also easy to be ensnared into trying to solve the inevitable puzzles and contradictions that arise from study of an individual as one delves more deeply into his or her world, especially today with the help of the internet.

But I don't want to spend the whole summer stuck in front of the computer. The gardening season's about to begin. And in any case I have that deadline of Sunday 10 April when our Fairlynch Museum's exhibition on the life and achievements of this former Budleigh Salterton resident is supposed to be ready.

I mentioned briefly at Commander Levick's connection with St Dunstan's, the UK charity the UK charity which, as its website reads, has been giving invaluable physical and emotional support to blind and visually impaired ex-Service men and women for almost a century. Click on for more information.

The Fairlynch Museum exhibition organisers are indebted to Roberta Hazan, Collections & Archives Manager at St Dunstan's for her help in locating the following document which shows how much the charity owed to Commander Levick.

Ian Fraser, seen above, wrote his appreciation of Murray Levick in the St Dunstan’s Review of June 1956 on hearing of the Commander's death

Created Baron Fraser of Lonsdale in August 1958, he was the second Chairman of St Dunstan's. Blind, like his predecessor Sir Arthur Pearson, he had lost his sight during World War One, but went on to have a successful career as a politician and businessman.


St Dunstan’s has taken the leading part in many battles to improve the status of blind people. Gradually we and others are breaking down the idea that the blind are so handicapped that they cannot do this and that, and are cut off from a great variety of activities. Sometimes it is a question of persuading employers or others concerned to give the blind person a trial; sometimes it's a matter of getting a professional body or a trade union to alter its rules or customs; sometimes an invention helps to get over a technical difficulty.

Men are very set in their ways and adhere strongly to custom and tradition, or to a policy or theme merely because it is well established. Sometimes changing your mind means eating your words, and to some people nothing is as indigestible as words.

Sometimes you meet a man who does not mind swimming against the tide, or backing his judgment against his professional colleagues; the kind of man Kipling had in mind when he wrote:

"If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
And make allowance for their doubting too. . ."

Such a man was Surgeon Commander G. Murray Levick, who died on May 30th 1956. Murray Levick went to the Antarctic with Scott as a surgeon and electro-magnetic expert and after the First World War was one of the earlier doctors to take up medical electricity.

At that time I had just entered St. Dunstan's as an assistant in charge of the new-born After-Care Department, and one of my first jobs was to help the masseurs of that generation to start their private practices. I found they were handicapped by the fact that the consensus of medical opinion was against their undertaking any but the most innocuous electrical treatment. It would be dangerous, said the doctors. They would electrocute or burn their patients.

One of my hobbies was radio, then in its infancy, and I had a crude wireless transmitter and I had overcome the difficulty of judging the way my set was working by devising for my own use a meter with a locking device for the sensitive needle, so that it could be felt with the fingers without damage, and the amount of current ascertained by the relationship of the tip of the needle to a braille scale. We applied this to medical electricity and in improved forms it is still in use. But this was not enough, for the doctors held tenaciously to the view that it would still be dangerous for the blind to do this work; that they could not see their patients' reactions, and so on and so on. And the masseurs' organisation, partly out of prejudice and partly in deference to the doctors' views, refused to examine our men or to give them a certificate for medical electricity.

This was where Dr. Murray Levick came in. We explained the whole matter to him, and he was willing to back his own judgment, notwithstanding the opinion of all the others. We suggested that he set an examination and that he gave a certificate, and he did. A number of the early masseurs worked on this certificate and it opened the door to a remunerative aspect of practice. The pattern of life often repeats itself and in this case, as would be expected, the initiative of St. Dunstan's, the courage of Dr. Murray Levick, and the fact that we were willing to go it alone and defy the rest of the doctors and the whole of the massage profession was enough.

To cut a long story short, they recognised us, allowed us to enter their examinations and to obtain their certificates, with the exception of the use of the ultra violet light, which was still thought to be dangerous, but which, I am glad to say, has now been admitted after a further invention, for which the R.N.I.B. School of Physiotherapy must have the credit.

I remember, perhaps thirty-five years ago, Dr. Murray Levick telling some of us in a lecture which many of us attended at the old Bungalow, something of his experiences in the Antarctic, when he and some others were marooned on an ice flow for the best part of a year.

He will be remembered by all who admire gallant explorers, but by us as one who helped us win a notable battle that has made a deal of difference to all blind physiotherapists the world over and, indirectly, to the blind world.


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