Slicing into the life of the surgeon who's spent 30-plus years delving into locals' inner depths
It's likely Mike Creswell holds the record for being this country's first patient to be treated with penicillin, certainly the youngest. At age 1 he contracted pneumonia and was so ill he wasn't expected to make it.
The war in the Pacific became his life saver. American troop ships berthed in Wellington Harbour were well stocked with the new wonder drug, not yet available here.
A nurse tending him secured a supply, no questions asked, and presto, the ailing infant was cured.
Whether that early brush with medicine was subliminally to influence his subsequent career choice can only be speculated on, but by the time he was in his mid 20s Mike Creswell was a fully fledged doctor, later a general surgeon and urologist, practising in Rotorua for more than three decades.
Now he's traded the operating theatre for retirement it's Our People's turn to pick up the scalpel and do some dissecting of our own into this medical man who's seen a lot more of people's inner workings than they'll ever get to glimpse.
It was a job he hankered after but believed would be out of his reach.
"I'd always admired doctors but thought you had to do Latin at school and I hadn't."
On that premise he enrolled at Victoria University to study for a science degree with zoology his major.
"For someone who's studied that I have to say I know very little about animals," is Mike's laconic comment as the family's one-eyed Burmese cat demands, and gets, his attention. During his Victoria days he discovered a BSc made him eligible for medical school admission, no Latin required.
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With Otago University then the country's only med school he headed there, having a ripper of a social life of the Carry On Doctor kind.
"It was the time of 6 o'clock [pub closing] swill, we weren't shy about taking part in it, then we'd buy beers for the blokes, Cold Duck [a sparkling red wine of the era] and Dubonnet for the sheilas and party away. It all seems pretty tame now, there was no couch burning in those days."
Mike graduated in 1969 "the year man first walked on the moon".
He began his house surgeon internship in Auckland but when his father died returned to his home town, Napier.
Talk of his father rekindles memories of heated debates between them, smoking was the hot topic.
"Dad worked for a tobacco company, he was a commercial traveller, I believe they call them 'business operations consultants' these days. We had very different views on his product."
While at Napier Hospital Mike settled on surgery as his specialty, returning to Auckland to join the specialists' training scheme based at the recently opened medical school there.
"For some reason I had thought surgery was the glamorous side of medicine."
He's since revised that.
He was at National Women's doing the obstetrics component of his course when what became known as the controversial Unfortunate Experiment based on women's late or non treatment of cervical cancer flared into a damning inquiry. Mike was way too far down the chain to have been involved.
In a classic doctors-nurses romantic tale he met wife-to-be Maureen while doing general surgery at Greenlane. She was on a National Women's midwifery course.
"We were having a rip-roaring party at our bachelor pad, I saw her across a crowded room, chatted her up, discovered we both had plans to go to the UK so arranged to hook up there."
"Hooking up" led to marriage in London. Tongue-in-cheek he implies they wed because hospitals offered married couples' accommodation. With Maureen tucked away out of sight we sense rather than see her eyebrows shoot up, that's the sort of husbandly "humour" she's lived with for 45 years.
After spells in various London hospitals Mike applied for a registrar's posting in Epsom, Surrey.
"I was asked if I could start tomorrow."
It was Epsom Derby day (horse race) and no one wanted to miss it, he obliged. While there he secured English and Scottish fellowships.
The couple made the decision to move "somewhere exotic"; settling on a Zaire copper mine hospital.
"They wanted a surgeon who spoke French, I didn't but Maureen did, she was my interpreter."
Zaire wasn't exactly the exotic spot of their imaginings. "We lived in a compound behind barriers . . . corruption was rife."
There Mike's infant pneumonia penicillin cure reaffirmed the value of the latest in antibiotics. "Some people with dreadful cases of it were discharged in a week. Malaria was another illness we were able to effectively treat."
The couple's stay in equatorial Africa lasted six months: "Maureen went and got herself pregnant." We just know her eyebrows have shot up again.
They were back in New Zealand for oldest daughter, Annabel's, birth.
Twins, Lucy and Susan, followed. By then Mike was Waikato Hospital based.
"Discovering we were having twins was a major shock, it was in the early days of ultrasound. Maureen had the scan with all these radiologists standing around, when twins were picked up they cheered and clapped, shook our hands."
Time in Wellington followed before Mike's 1982 Rotorua Hospital appointment. He was one of five general surgeons, each with sub specialties, Mike's was urology.
The following years brought huge health sector changes. "Hospital superintendents were replaced by managers, hospitals were judged on their budgets, scoring systems were introduced, inevitably that's taken a toll on waiting lists."
That's something that bothers the doctor in him but counter-balancing it are the immense advances modern medicine's made during his surgical years.
"CAT scans were introduced in the 1990s, now you know exactly what you are to find when you operate. There are so many new techniques, staples replaced stitches, it's only fairly recently joint replacements have become available, laser surgery has made a huge difference but unfortunately these advances have increased the cost of treatments."
There we are back to hospitals' book balancing and confirmation it doesn't make doctors any happier than patients.
The slowing down phase of Mike's working life began in 2013 when he retired from the public system. It was to be another three years before he shed his private sector scrubs.
For our final incision we probe around to see if there's any type of surgery that's eluded him. The answer's stereotypical of the dry-witted Mike Creswell: "Well, I've never had to amputate a penis but I'm pretty sure I could if I had to."
Education: Mornington Primary Wellington, Napier Central, intermediate and high schools, Victoria, Otago, Auckland universities
Family: Wife Maureen, daughters Annabel, Lucy, Susan. Four grandsons, two granddaughters: "They are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, I guess that's pretty unusual."
Interests: Family, president Prisoners' Aid Rehabilitation Society, committee member Friends of the Museum, long-time member Rotary West, skiing, mountain and road biking, member Geriatric Cyclists Team. Reading. "John Grisham, Frederick Forsythe, Jeffrey Archer, keeping abreast of what Trump's up to." Travel.
On his life: "I regard myself privileged to have had the job I've had."
On Rotorua Hospital: "It's excellent, we can be very proud of what it does to draw waiting lists down."
Personal philosophy: "The key to everything is education, knowledge, skills."