Dr Paul Taikie, Orthopaedic Surgeon, passed away last Saturday morning at the age of 83. The religious ceremony was held at the St Andrews Church, Quatre-Bornes on Monday last. It was attended by a large number of relatives, friends and others who had come to express their sympathies to his bereaved family.
It took me a while to tide over the emotional shock after I got the sad news from a colleague and friend shortly after his demise. The last time that I had heard about him was a couple of months ago from a niece of his who was visiting from the UK. I met her at a dinner hosted in memory of a primary school friend who had passed a few days earlier. (We had ‘reconnected’ after nearly forty years, as he had shifted from Curepipe-Road to a village in the north to run his deceased father-in-law’s shop.) Dr Taikie’s niece told me that she had gone to see him at home; he had recently been discharged from the clinic. I had asked her whether I could go visit him, and she said to wait a while as he was still weak and somewhat confused. Unfortunately that was not to be.
With his demise the medical profession and the orthopaedic community in particular loses one of its towering figures, who ranks among those whom we consider as ‘surgical giants’, the likes of Drs Bathfield, Ghadially, Phillipe Teckham, Stephen Keating. My own association with him starts with our first encounter in 1972. I had just joined the brand new SSR National Hospital as a junior resident, and I needed his professional services as an orthopod, as we are referred to in the jargon.
At that time, there was only one Orthopaedic Department and it was at PMOC. This means that all the orthopaedic surgeons were based there. Dr Taikie started coming to SSRNH once a week to conduct an outpatient consultation; subsequently other orthopods took over until Dr Keating was posted there in January 1976 to commission the second Orthopaedic Department in the island. During the several months that we needed Dr Taikie’s help, I was to discover his sublime qualities as a compassionate doctor. He was kindness personified, patient, thorough and ever attentive to every detail of medical care. His encouragement and unflinching support were invaluable in helping us to face the difficult phase that we had to go through, and for this we would ever be grateful to him. And so would his many patients too in their own way, I am sure.
Little did I know then that one day we would become colleagues! When Dr Keating came to open the Orthopaedic Department at SSRNH, I was assigned to work with him as junior resident, and I did so with some reluctance as I was not at all interested in orthopaedics. But such are our karmic conjunctions that there was a ‘déclic’ between us when that morning I walked into the consultation room where Dr Keating was consulting. Not only did that meeting launch me on my definitive career path, we also became excellent friends. And when I came back from the UK after completing my specialization, I was posted again to SSRNH to work as resident under – Dr Paul Taikie! He was then the Consultant in charge of the department. And of course it was such a pleasure to be meeting again, this time as a colleague Orthopaedic Surgeon.
He was to be transferred to PMOC after about two months, in May 1980. By then I was appointed Registrar-Specialist, and I took over his assigned slots when he left, that is took charge of his inpatients and his outpatient clinics, and operation sessions. In 1982 I was in my turn transferred to PMOC, where he was in charge. By choice I also worked with Dr Ghadially, who had recently been given a two-year contract to run the Plastic Surgery and Burns Service that he had pioneered in establishing in the 1960s, and which I took charge of when Dr Ghadially retired, having undergone further Plastic Surgery training in France.
Dr Taikie was to remain at PMOC until his premature retirement in 1988, in circumstances which pained him and which I prefer not to go into. Suffice it to say that his departure left a big gap, as he was one of the ‘last Mohicans’ as it were. It was not easy to step into his shoes, as I was called upon to do, and to assume that heavy responsibility even as I felt his absence acutely until, by the by, I gained enough confidence to navigate the very, very choppy waters of orthopaedic surgical practice.
The presence of our mature elders by our side, especially those endowed with such empathy and deep understanding as Dr Taikie had, is a great comfort to any surgeon who is building up his skills and facing complexities that are the daily fare of a life in surgery. Many a time there would be a case in which I would need his advice, and he would always be available to give his considered view and full-fledged support. It was so reassuring to know that ‘big brother’ (not in the Orwellian sense!) was in the vicinity to hold one’s hands if the going got rough. It sufficed for him to say, ‘you go ahead, I’ll be around if you need me.’ Generations of surgeons have heard these words uttered by their masters and mentors, genuine balm to calm fraying nerves as they prepared to take on a problem case. When they became seniors in their turn, those who shared the values of their respected peers learnt to be as supportive and exemplary too.
I recall many such moments with Dr Taikie at the PMOC. Ever humble and always the learner, he would not hesitate to seek some clarification from me about a plastic surgery technique or method that he would see me resorting to. Equally, whenever he would travel overseas – to Hong Kong, Australia – he would always meet up with colleagues there and learn something new that he would come and share with me, about reconstruction of knee ligaments, about a new approach in spine surgery and so on. Dr Taikie was a laureate at the RCC in 1950, and had done both his undergraduate and specialist studies at Leeds and in the Leeds area.
That our hospital careers became so intertwined is for me no mere coincidence – in fact, I also did my specialization in the Leeds area, so that there were commonalities in our training and in our approach to orthopaedic problems. That’s why I have used the term ‘karmic conjunction’ above for, as Swami Chinmayananda said, ‘In life there are no accidents, there are only incidents.’ Things do not just happen: there is a convergence of factors known and unknown that lead to things unfolding as they do, and for want of a more plausible explanation I believe that my initial encounter and subsequent professional association with Dr Taikie falls into this category. And so be it!
As I was walking to attend the service with Dr Gajadharsingh on Monday, also one of our ‘surgical giants’, he told me that he and Dr Taikie had worked together as junior residents at the then Civil Hospital in 1965, with Dr Brun as their boss. He narrated to me how Dr Taikie had taught him to do his first appendicitis operation, and shared other memories about their time together, along with another stalwart, Dr Vedi Dyall, himself a laureate at the RCC two years after Dr Taikie, in 1952. I am lucky to have had all three of them as my mentors and, dare I repeat, this is no mere coincidence!
Besides being an excellent doctor, Dr Taikie was a keen tennis player, which he carried on with till the very end, until failing health stopped him from exerting any further. As we learnt from the pulpit on Monday last, he was also a devoted family man and a loving father, as well as being very pious, taking an active part in all the activities of the diocese. And was I pleased to learn too that at one time he used to frequent the St Clement Church in Curepipe! – another ‘coincidence’ of note to me, for I was a Boy Scout in the St. Clement troop for several years during my teens. Looks like our paths were destined to cross!
To his bereaved daughters and their families, and his relatives, I once again extend my deepest condolences, and pray for the departed soul, respected colleague, guide and mentor. A fine gentleman, a good human being.
RIP Dr Paul Taikie.
* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014