Lives of the fellows

Isaac Rachman

b.28 August 1924 d.26 February 1998
MB ChB Cape Town(1948) MRCP(1958) FRCP(1975)

'Sakkie’, as he was known to friends and colleagues, was a general physician with an interest in neurology who spent much of his career at Mpilo Hospital, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He grew up in Malmesbury, South Africa, and received his undergraduate medical training at the University of Cape Town. His post-graduate training took him to London, where as a medical registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children, Hackney, he met, and subsequently married, the paediatric registrar, Thea Rose.

In the late 1950s they joined the medical services of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which at that time promised to be a liberal bastion in the heart of Africa. Their first posting was to Nyasaland, now Malawi, at a time when political unrest had already begun. This was not the ideal place to have babies or rear young children, particularly since the arrival of twins meant that they had four children under the age of four.

In the early 1960s Sakkie and Thea were transferred to Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo, where they spent most of their medical careers. Sakkie was a general physician with an interest in neurology and Thea an anaesthetist. Mpilo Hospital is a referral centre for the indigenous population of the whole of South Western Zimbabwe. The referring hospitals were mainly at missions scattered throughout Matabeleland, Masvingo and the Midlands. The hospital had nearly a thousand beds and each of the three physicians was responsible for about ninety patients, initially without the help of junior staff.

In 1963 all seemed to be lost. The identical sister hospital in Salisbury (later Harare) was destined to be the teaching hospital for the newly established medical school. Many of the talented staff left Mpilo to take up posts at the medical school. Sakkie was one of those who adopted the view that if Harare was to become the undergraduate centre, then Mpilo should become the post-graduate centre. With full time staff, Mpilo was ahead of its time, and a forerunner of present day continuing medical education. Sakkie was an excellent physician and teacher. One hallmark of a good physician is that colleagues wish to refer their cases to him, an even more important criterion is that colleagues wish the physician to take care of their families. Both were true of Sakkie.

Mpilo soon won a good name as a post-graduate training centre, both for preparation for work in the districts and as a centre with a high pass rate in the FRCS, MRCP and MRCOG exams. There was soon no difficulty in recruiting junior staff.

Of special note was the happy relationship between Mpilo Hospital and the Catholic missions on either side of the road to Victoria Falls. The doctors at these missions reserved Thursdays as their shopping days, because that was postgraduate teaching day at Mpilo, when they could both learn and catch up on referred cases. The communication with these missions was excellent and Sakkie would often travel to the missions to offer personal consultations.

This busy and satisfying time in Bulawayo ended in the late 1980s when Thea became ill and Sakkie decided that they should be near the children, who were now excelling at the University of Cape Town. Furthermore they could avail themselves of the expertise of his alma mater. Sakkie therefore ended his medical career at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital, dealing with tuberculosis, a disease with which he had had plenty of experience in Bulawayo. His medical superintendent was Fraser Ross, the retired professor of community medicine from Zimbabwe, who had also been his medical superintendent when he joined Mpilo.

The heavy medical demands did not leave much time for extramural activities, but family life was all important to the Rachmans.

Sakkie was always very proud of his sister’s son, Alan McGregor, who was to become professor of general medicine at King’s College, London. He enjoyed the companionship of his sister during his last illness, which he endured with such fortitude.

J E P Thomas


(Volume XII, page web)

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