Dr. Nigel Rusted kept meticulous journal throughout long career and life
Dr. Nigel Rusted’s diaries have turned the everyday ordinary into the extraordinary.
His entire life, from 1925 until his death at the age of 104 in 2012, has been chronicled in a meticulous series of diaries that have been digitized and placed in the faculty of medicine archives at Memorial University in St. John’s.
He joins his brother, Ian, the founder of the medical school at MUN in 1968, in the archives, both having long and storied careers in medicine.
“Dad would have been thrilled,’’ his daughter, Elaine Rusted Hyde, said Thursday.
“I have read the entire thing. I even remember being in his office in the basement of the house where he kept everything. He had a map that he had on the wall and for every community he did a surgery in, he had a push pin.’’
It was his skill in surgery, and his numerous other endeavours throughout his life, that led the faculty of medicine to launch the Dr. Nigel Rusted Diaries online.
His self-proclaimed No. 1 son, Tom, said that was his father’s way.
“He wanted to be remembered and he liked to share,’’ Tom Rusted said.
“That was something he always did. He even summarized all his diaries about 20 years before he died. If he met a doctor somewhere, he had a list of when and where he met them.’’
Getting this project off the ground took some work and a host of people taking on the many moving parts.
But with a resilient team, and with the help of a former dean of medicine, the Rusted family was convinced it was the right thing to do.
“This is one of the most important acquisitions that has come along in this province in terms of social history,’’ archivist Stephanie Harlick said.
“The dean at the time, Dr. James Rourke, played a huge role in helping to acquire the diaries for the archives. He helped in the negotiations,’’ she added, noting they came to the archives in 2014 under the codicil there would be a 10-year restriction on their availability to the public.
Sadly, this did not make it to 10 years, as Rusted’s daughter, Joan, who was working on a book at the time, died suddenly. The family graciously agreed to lift the restrictions a few months ago and the diaries are now live for everyone to view.
Harlick said to put in perspective what an impressive effort was put into the diaries, she said her father, who died in 2011, was born in 1926, a year after Rusted first made an entry and continued every day for the next 85-plus years.
If you take 365 days per year (some were leap years) and multiply that by the 86 years he wrote in his books, there were a lot of entries and history recorded during the more than 31,000 days, plus summaries that he did over the final 20 years of his life.
“Now that these diaries have been digitized, I would like to advocate for the diaries to be made into audio books,’’ Harlick said.
“This is the next step in the process.”
Dr. Jim Connors, the John Clinch professor of medical humanities and history in the faculty of medicine, first met Rusted in the early 1990s.
Connors said they corresponded for a number of years on a variety of topics, and really got to know each other when he moved to St. John’s in 2004.
“He started to mellow when he got in his 90s, but he was still very forthright,’’ Connors said.
“The one thing that never changed was the fact he ‘just wanted things done properly.’”
Connors shared a variety of stories about his interactions with Rusted over the years, including watching as he held anatomical pop quizzes with medical students who had been invited to his home for supper. He never missed an opportunity for a teaching moment, done in fun of course, but at the same time helping to make those students better practioners later on.
“I also recall Nigel having a host of cabins. In one of those he had his chainsaw stolen. He called the RCMP, who eventually tracked down the culprit,’’ Connors said.
“The man who was in possession of the chainsaw said, ‘You can’t prove it is yours,’ and Nigel promptly told him, ‘You see those scratches, it is my name done in Morse code.’ After some research it was proven it was his name.’’
Rusted was the son of Rev. Canon Ernest Rusted and Faith Hollands Rusted. He was born in Salvage and grew up in Upper Island Cove. He attended high school in St. John’s and went on to attend the newly established Memorial University College, graduating in 1927.
Following his time at Memorial, he attended Dalhousie medical school, and during the summers worked as a health officer aboard the SS Kyle, which visited communities along the Labrador coast.
He interned at the tuberculosis sanatorium in Kentville, at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow and at the Victoria Hospital in Halifax. After graduating in 1933, Rusted accepted a position at the St. John’s General Hospital.
After suffering a severe throat infection in 1935, he worked on the clinic ship MV Lady Anderson for a year. In 1936, he opened a private clinic in St. John’s and also became a junior surgeon at the General Hospital.
He saw a lot of things throughout his career, and was known for performing cleft palette and hair lip surgeries, but also was vital in a number of tragic events throughout his lifetime.
One of those was in 1942 when, after a long day, he was headed home when he got a call to return to work to deal with a catastrophic fire.
This resonated with the woman who digitized all the files as she sat and read excerpt after excerpt.
“The most fascinating thing I found while going through his diaries while I was digitizing them came from the Knights of Columbus Fire in 1942,” said Melissa Hefford, an archival assistant for the Faculty of Medicine Founders’ Archive, Health Sciences Library.
“He got called in to help with the efforts. I found it fascinating to read that, the role he played in that event.’’
Honours and awards
The following is a list of accolades bestowed upon Dr. Nigel Rusted throughout his storied career:
1950: Fellow of the American College of Physicians and Surgeons
1950: Fellow of the International College of Surgeons
1974: Senior Membership of the Canadian Medical Association
1986: Nigel Rusted Lectureship on the History of Surgery, founded by Discipline of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland
1996: William B. Spaulding Certificate of Merit for contribution to the history of medicine in Canada, awarded by Associated Medical Services, Toronto
2010: Life Membership of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association
He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2011
He was named to the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2007.
He was given the Canadian Version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.