Written by Ray Liddle on his working career in the Department of BioMedical Engineering.
I completed Year 12 in 1971 and whilst ‘the world was my oyster’, unemployment for school leavers was virtually non-existent. I really had no idea of the types of Jobs that were opening up in many fields at the time. I found an Advertisement in the Jobs Vacant section of the Advertiser for an Apprentice Electronics Technician (Radio Tradesman) at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I applied and was granted an interview with Mr Neville Martin, Chief Medical Electronics Officer and Dr Peter Hetzel, Director, CVIU.
Awarded the position I duly commenced work on the 2nd February 1972 in the Medical Electronics Service (MES). I was actually supposed to start work one week earlier however having just completed Matriculation (Year 12) and then having spent the ‘Christmas Holidays’ searching for employment I sought a week to unwind on Glenroy sheep station near my home town of Redhill in the mid North.
Medical Electronics Service was an integral part of the Cardio Vascular Investigation Unit (CVIU). It was located Level 6 Theatre Block, Room F3 & immediately adjacent the CVIU Catheter Lab Room F10.
Staff in Medical Electronics consisted of Neville Martin 1957-1989, Bert Stacey 1960, Peter Senn 1968, John Hogarth 1968, Robert Wiseman 1969 & Graham Elsegood 1971.
Clerical duties were performed by the CVIU Clerical Staff using state of the art Golf Ball typewriters complete with carbon paper for copies.
Purchasing done by ex-cardiac patients referred by Dr Peter Hetzel as part of their redeployment/rehabilitation Jack Bedson, Noel Misso (previously Manager RAH Maintenance Department).
There was no formal uniform in the early times. One was however expected to wear shirt, tie, long trousers & covered shoes (safety boots had not been invented). Long white lab coats with name indelibly printed in red ink within the internal collar. The white coats served two purposes. On one hand they clearly identified staff as being part of the clinical CVIU team. On the other hand, they protected one’s personal clothes from the equally indelible purple ink used by locally manufactured Both Model N ECG Machines. One of my earliest recollections (not good) as an apprentice was dropping a glass bottle of this dashedly ink leaving the workshop floor stained purple for ever more!
In the early 1970s the Hospital Administration Department acquired its first Xerox Photo copier. Medical Electronics was regularly called to perform first line maintenance including removing paper jams & filling/cleaning the black carbon print medium (soot). Once again, the white coats came in handy. It should be noted that the technology behind this Xerox device was invented & developed in 1952 by the SA branch of the Defence Standards Laboratory.
The Thoracic Medicine acquired its and the Hospitals first Computer second hand ex DSTO Edinburgh at about this time. It filled an entire room measuring about 7×5 metres!
As part of my indentured Apprenticeship, I was enrolled in and obtained the qualification of Radio Trades Certificate from Kilkenny Technical College.
Further formal training in Electronics was to consume part time studies for the best part of 25 years and included:
- 1974-1977 – Certificate in Electronic Engineering, Kilkenny Technical College
- 1978-1982 – Associate Diploma in Electronic Engineering, SA Institute of Technology
- 1986-1998 – Bachelor of Engineering – Electronic Engineering, University of SA
Specific technical training on Medical Equipment was provided by the respective manufacture/supplier & negotiated as part of the equipment purchase contract. I was fortunate to receive overseas training at Hewlett Packard, USA & Nihon Kohen, Japan.
Clinical education was provided on the job & by the respective clinical departments.
Each year a new apprentice/trainee was employed. In most cases these were school leavers including:
- 1973 – Ian Miller
- 1974 – Ray Ash
- 1975 – Chris Jeffs
- 1976 – Adrian Richards
- 1976 – Robin Woolford (first with electronics degree to join
- 1977 – Chris Moore
- <1980 – Hugh Stewart
- <1980 – Dominic Breuker
- <1980 – Lenny Agalawatta
- <1988 – Bob Hancock
- 1986 – Ken Riggs
- 1987 – Tony Amato
Other departments and staff transferred to BME and under Neville Martin’s Direction:
Radiotherapy, Level 2 East Wing:
- 1980 – George Reeves
- 1980 – Chris Penhall
- 1987 – Roger M Pirola
- 1990 – Shane Hines
Instrument Services Division, Level 2 Theatre Block:
- 1945 – Herbert Zeitz
- 1960 – Ray Thompson
- 1967 – Eddie Kilford
- 1967 – Kevin Zeitz
- 1968 – George Newstead
- 1974 – Deg Cotar
- 1976 – Tony Baldachino
- 1977 – David Evans
- 1985 – Steven Knowles
See Addendum 1 for staff who joined BME post Neville Martin
Early morning starts in Cardio Thoracic Theatre (CTSU) were a regular occurrence. This involved turning on & then calibrating the Sanborn valve technology Physiological Monitoring/Recording Equipment for Open Heart Surgical procedures. I had no car so this involved getting up at around 5:00, catching a MTT bus to the city & then having the Monitoring System up & ready to go for an 8:00 am procedure.
In the mid 1970’s I was involved in the installation of a centralised physiological monitoring in Cardio Thoracic Recovery (B4) and the Cardiology Ward (A6), replacing standalone cart mounted ECG Monitors.
Educating Nursing staff on how to obtain the best results from the new electronic technology was an ongoing rewarding task.
Application of ECG & Defib electrodes required the use of conductive paste (disposable electrodes had not been invented). Great satisfaction was taken in demonstrating why not to smear jelly across a patient chest. Too much gel resulted in the Defib arcing across the dummy patient’s chest.
MES under the well-honed guidance of Bert Stacey provided clinical support for the implantation, follow up & reprogramming of both Implantable & External Cardiac Pacemakers. These same skills were transferred to assistance with the first Implantable Defibrillators in the mid 1990’s upon the return of Cardiologist, Dr Glenn Young.
MES was also involved in the design & manufacture of Medical Electronic devices that were not readily available. Some that come to mind being External Pacemakers for Cardiology, Fibrillators for CTSU, Faradic Stimulators (TENS) for Physiotherapy & a Central Monitoring Station for Ward A6.
Whist Medical Electronics formed part of CVIU our specialised services were also provided freely to all medical specialties.
One of my first jobs was to assist John Hogarth with installation of an Audio-Visual recording system in the new Psychiatric interview room on Level 5 Administration Block.
Another early job was assisting in the fit out of Intensive Care (ICU) & Coronary Care (ICU) Units in Ward A4 of the recently completed North Wing (QRS wards).
Electrical Safety in accordance with evolving Australian Standards formed a major part of our work load. In the early 1970’s MES in cooperation with E&BS Electricians coordinated the installation of Heinemann Earth Leakage Core Breakers (ELCBs) in all high dependency wards in the Hospital. These were the forerunners for Safety Switches or Residual Current Devices (RCDs) which are now found in every ward not to mention almost all homes today.
One sadly notable incident was when Cardiac Ward A6 was being upgraded to include RCDs. One of the Electrical contractors received an electric shock whilst working in the ceiling. Instead of notifying A6 nursing staff who would have taken an ECG & attended to any resulting arrhythmia the contractor elected to drive to his GP. He suffered a heart attack, crashed into the bridge over the Torrens River adjacent to the Adelaide Zoo and died. It is ironic that the very device he was installing would have saved his life if it had already been in place.
In the early days Medical Electronic equipment was not particularly reliable and Friday afternoon equipment checks were put in place to ensure the equipment was in good working condition & to minimise out of hours call back over the week end. An example of this being the need to top up the ink reservoirs in ECG machines & check the condition of ECG & Defib cables. Over time as devices became more reliable the focus turned to verification of electrical safety. By the early 1990’s electrical safety had become a lesser issue due to the implementation of dedicated Australian Standards for BME Equipment. From then on regular scheduled annual safety & performance checks become the norm.
Provision of BME services for Operating Theatres (OT) and in particular the Anaesthesia Dept gradually become a more significant part of our work load. This started with the new Q4 ICU in mid 1970’s and then with the introduction of Physiological Monitoring to all Anaesthetic Machines in the mid 1980’s.
Early 1990’s saw the purchase & clinical operation of Cadwell Spinal Monitoring Equipment for Mr David Hall, Orthopaedic Surgeon. This equipment was also utilised by Neurosurgery & culminated in the purchase of Image Guided Surgery equipment in 2000.
In the early years there was an air of comradery in the workplace. We were all involved in the rapidly developing field of Cardiac Investigation. Drs, Nurses, Medical Technicians & BME shared a common tea room in CVIU.
It was in that tea room that Dr Michael Drew, Director, Thoracic Medicine provided me with snow ski lessons, a pastime I still enjoy.
Conversations regularly drifted to the cars in the Dr’s Car Park (at front of hospital on North Tce between Bice Building & the East Wing).
Notable cars that I readily recall:
- Geoff Ward, Yellow Lamborghini Uracco P300
- Ben Bidstup,635 CSi BMW Grey with Red & Blue Stripes
- John Knight, Royal Blue Alpha GT2000
I took responsibility for purchasing lottery tickets for the for BME. We had a SA Bank account under the name ‘Electronic Bugs’.
This led on to me coordinating the purchase of Christmas Turkeys from SA Gov Cold Store for the entire CVIU Department.
These were forerunners to joining the Social Club RAH (SARAH) as a committee member and progressing to being President of the robust organisation providing social interaction across the many disciplines of the hospital. I was nominated as Public Service Representative and duly elected as a Public Service Councillor. This led on to being a councillor on the Technical Grades Committee. This is still the bench mark today for progression through the various grades.
During Neville Martin’s tenure I was contented with my role and continual development. New career opportunities presented every 3-6 years. The evolutionary manner of changes in Biomedical devices in all fields of medicine always presented something new, challenging and rewarding.
When Neville retired, his position was awarded to an interstate fellow – Phill Thorburn – At my first interview with my new boss he asked what were my goals. I replied, “to have your job”. Didn’t go down well. However, it did become evident that to progress up that ladder I would need to obtain Degree Level qualification. I therefore committed to completing an Electronic Engineering Degree at The Levels – later Mawson Lakes Campus of the University of South Australia. It took me 12 years to complete the 4-year degree – working 40-hour weeks, being involved in various committees both work and family orientated. I was also contacted by Guide Dogs SA Inc requesting help with designing a Rehabilitative device for People with Hemianopia. With permission from the hospital, I enlisted my cousin Greg Liddle (also employed at RAH BME) to design the first Liddle Scanning Device.
My final seven years at the RAH (1998-2005) were spent as Manager of Clinical Engineering – outsourcing our expertise to private hospitals.
In 2005 the hard years of part time study paid off & I was successful in acquiring the PO4 position Manager Clinical Asset Advisory Service (CAAS), Country Health SA (CHSA). The wheel had turned full circle as this position was handed over from my very first RAH boss, Perter Senn. As a bonus this enabled ‘the boy from the bush’ to return to the bush.
In 2012 I was rewarded with the position Area Manager, Country & Community within the newly formed state-wide SA BME.
SA BME devolved in 2019 and I spent that last 3 years of my career as Manager, BME Regional Health, Rural Support Service (RSS).
This capped off nigh on 50 years of rewarding service to SA Health.
When I accepted the apprentice Radio Trades position in 1972 I had no idea that I would be part of the exponential change in Health Service support culminating in retirement as a PO5 Biomedical Engineer in 2021.
Post Neville Martin BME:
- Mark Stewart
- Andrew Brewster
- 1989 – Sandra Abbott
- 09/01/1989 – Gregg Liddle
- 09/01/1989 – Peter Wales
- 1989 – Peter De Favari
- 1989 – Darren Kohlagen
- 1990 – Phil Thorburn (Director BME)
- 1990 – Jenny Tummel
- 1990 – Carol Angove
- 1993 – Naomi Herbert
- 1993 – Janine Howie
- 1994 – Scott Sando
- 1994 – Craig Dicker
- 1995 – Barry Murphy
- 1995 – Wayne Kitchener
- 1996 – Joe Barbaro
- 1996 – Glen Kennett
- 1997 – Rob Worrell
- 1997 – Zita Pelling
- 1997 – Rebecca Grollo
- 2000 – Colin Hill
Post Neville Martin – Instrument Services Division, Level 6 McEwin
- Peter Kauschke
- Pas Viscione
- Ken baker
- 1989 – Peter Bakker
- 1990 – Bob Giles
- 1990 – Doug Collett
- 1990-1996 – Trevor Tucker
- 1991 – David Giraldi
- 1993 – Shaun Zabo
- 1994 – Paul Cremers
- 1997 – Darren Golly
Written by Ray Liddle