Sands of time run through for doctor

MOVING ON: Dr Les Sands on his last day at Limestone Medical Centre before he left to live the rest of his life in retirement.
MOVING ON: Dr Les Sands on his last day at Limestone Medical Centre before he left to live the rest of his life in retirement. Claudia Baxter

THERE was a time when toads were routinely used in pregnancy tests for women.

There was also a time when doctors routinely did house-calls and GPs delivered babies and performed operations.

It is the time of the much-loved and admired Dr Les Sands who started as a GP in Ipswich in 1963 and has now retired to spend more time with family, read, travel and turn the timber in his shed into something "useful, pretty or both."

Dr Sands, who retired from the Limestone Medical Centre in Brisbane St, started working as a GP at the invitation of Dr Harry Wilson, Dr Bruce Roberts and Dr Ted Rye.

At his retirement party, the man with the kind eyes and soft smile declared his sincere gratitude to those doctors for their patience, humility and willingness to teach.


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"There have been many changes in general practice over the past 51 years," Dr Sands said. "Some of it good, some of it not so good."

One of the good things, he said, was the continuing efforts of the Royal Australian College of GPs to improve standards of medical practice. Dr Sands was president of the Ipswich Australian Medical Association, an examiner for the College of GPs and was also active in his church.

"A really good feature of general practice in the early years was obstetrics - delivering babies," he said. "However, I am very glad that nowadays I can go to bed secure in the knowledge that I won't get called out for a delivery at 3am."

His other medical activities have included surgery, anaesthetics and speaking to community groups.

"Over the years, many of my patients have become good friends," Dr Sands said.

"I appreciate their confidence and trust in me. It is an awesome responsibility. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed living and working in Ipswich and raising our four children here."

When he started, he and the other doctors worked from Dr Wilson's home, still on the corner on Brisbane and Milford sts.

"Harry's large family occupied most of the building. My room was very small," Dr Sands said.

"There was a couch and one chair for the patient and I stood. Patients did not hang around for long."

Around 1966, they moved into the current building which had been designed by Dr Roberts.

"All this time, staff answering the phone would say 'Drs Wilson, Roberts, Sands and Thomas surgery. How can I help you?' This was too big a mouthful," he said.

"Jon Thomas came around 1974 and Geoff Mitchell came in 1984.

"We used to do a lot of tonsillectomies, circumcisions and occasional appendectomies and hernias. We did a lot of obstetrics and curettes. After some years in Ipswich, I went to Melbourne and did an anaesthetic course.

"The Ipswich and West Moreton Division of General Practice set up a group to do forensic examinations on victims of sexual assault after hours. Jon and I were the only GPS doing it in the end."

One of the more unusual changes over the years involves the pregnancy test.

"In those days we didn't have access to the neat three drop tests available today," Dr Sands said.

"Pathology companies like QML bred large quantities of cane toads especially for the purpose. Urine from the prospective mother was injected into a male cane toad and the toad was observed in isolation for several days.

"If cane toad sperm was found in the container, that was a positive test. It usually took at least 48 hours to get a result."

On a more routine note, the practice was the first in Ipswich to use beepers for on-call doctors then the first to use mobile phones - "initially huge ugly things that had only a four hour battery life and the first to be computerised".

On the home front, Dr Sands said his wife Irene's love and support have been "essential to my sanity and ability to function".

"Without her, I could not have properly cared for my patients," he said. "I tried, as much as possible, to be with the children when they had important things to do or places to be but often patients had to be given priority.

"Irene was able to fill in many of the gaps but she also had significant responsibilities, especially for our eldest daughter who has significant health problems.

"Nevertheless, we made it a practice to take the family on special holidays each year and that allowed a lot of quality time together.

A camping trailer and later a caravan brought lots of happy and precious memories."

Asked what he would miss most about being a GP, Dr Sands first nominated the interaction with patients, doctors and staff, along with "the fascination in general practice in not knowing what problems are about to come through the door".

"There is great satisfaction in coming to a correct diagnosis or in knowing that you have done some real good that day," he said.

Asked his plans for retirement, Dr Sands said: "I have a lot of timber in my shed aching to be turned into something useful, pretty or both."

Topics:  retirement

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