harry diamond's memoir


John McLaughlin is a close and valued friend. I first met him when I was doing some voluntary publicity work for the renal unit of Glasgow's Western Infirmary. Suitable kidneys were always in short supply, as they still are, and from time to time I did stories about transplants that had transformed the lives of men, women and children, the idea being to encourage people to carry organ donor cards.

can you get me into the papersAfter I had been doing this for some years I wrote to the Chief Rabbi in London to ask if Jews were allowed to donate organs as it seemed illogical, if not downright immoral, for me to try to persuade others to donate organs if I couldn't do it myself when the time came.

The same evening I wrote to Maureen Lundie, matron of Erskine Hospital, accepting her invitation to the dinner dance she hosts every year for members of the Excutive Committee and others who have an interest in the hospital. I told her I would not be bringing Anne Lorne Gillies, the beautiful and talented singer, again because on the way home the previous year Anne had given me an impressive and comprehensive list of my failings as an ideal partner.

Next morning Mrs Lundie phoned to say she had received a letter addressed to the Chief Rabbi. With mounting dread I waited for another phone call and sure enough it came shortly afterwards. The soft voice of Rabbi Dr J. Shindler, Director of Rabbinic Liaison, said, "Mr Diamond, this is the Chief Rabbi's office. We have received a letter which I think should have gone to Erskine Hospital.........."

Later I received a considerable amount of literature from Mrs Rhoda Goodman, Assistant Executive Director of the Chief's office, in response to my question. The answer is far too complicated to go into here but my interpretation was "yes, under certain very strict circumstances." My own solution to the problem is much simpler, "Don't ask...."

One of the stories I wrote about successful kidney transplants was that of a young girl named Pauline McLaughlin. Before she received a new kidney in October 1985 she had had years of misery, always tired, always dependent on a dialysis machine.

She had a boy friend but they couldn't make any plans for the future as Pauline wasn't sure she would even have a future. A week after her successful transplant 22-year-old Pauline and Wilf Burling decided there was no longer any reason for them to fear the future and they made plans to be married.

Pauline's father, John McLaughlin, came to me and asked me if I would tell the story of Pauline's return to health and renew the appeal for organ donors. He was desperately anxious to give hope to other sufferers. As a result of the story I wrote there were almost as many news media people as guests at the wedding in Our Lady of Lourdes Church at Bishopton, near Glasgow, on Easter Monday 1986.

The guests included Mr Malcolm Brown, who performed the transplant on Pauline, Dr Douglas Briggs, consultant physician in the renal unit, Ruth Stewart, the transplant co-ordinator and other doctors and nurses from the Western Infirmary. It was one of the happiest weddings I've ever attended. John McLaughlin and I dreamed up the idea of making it a condition of attendance that each of the almost 400 guests must sign a donor card. Even some of the press complied!

The donor campaign was assisted by the publicity department of the Glasgow Herald which produced a poster I designed featuring a smiling Pauline and the headline THANKS FOR SAVING MY LIFE.

Pauline has since had a second kidney transplant but is quite healthy and the mother of two healthy boys, and John is still persuading people to carry organ donor cards. The Western Infirmary renal unit has performed more than 1500 kidney transplants since 1968 and there is an ever-increasing waiting list for kidneys suitable for transplant. The Government ruling that seriously ill patients must not be kept alive merely for any of their organs which may be used for transplant cuts down their availability even further.

The donor card campaign was joined in 1991 by Councillor Jean McFadden whose husband John had died earlier in the year despite two successful kidney transplants. John was the prime mover in the setting up of Second Chance, whose function was the promotion in Scotland of the organ donor scheme through a computerised register of potential donors. A national computerised register is now in operation in Bristol.

John McLaughlin has not come through all the anxious periods entirely unscathed. Six years ago he had a heart attack and was told to stop climbing buildings with the roof skylights his company in Govan manufactures and take up some light work, so he left the heaving and carrying part of the business to two of his four sons, Andrew and Stephen, and started to carve chairs to help pass the time. Most of the chairs are heavier than the roof skylights he used to carry but that doesn't prevent him from taking them all over the country to show at special events. Most of the work is done by John in a basement workshop in his house in the middle of the night because he's a bad sleeper.

You can't buy a McLaughlin chair. John will make one only out of love and thankfulness for the life of his daughter Pauline and for his own survival from the heart attack. He makes them for people he considers have made a worthwhile contribution of some kind to the life and times of his native city and so far has made about 80 chairs for clergymen, politicians, businessmen, footballers, policemen, officials of the city, and friends.

A couple of years after I retired, but without telling me, John tried his carving knife at producing a bust of me from pictures he found in various newspapers and offered it to Julian Spalding, director of Glasgow's Museums and Art Galleries for display at the council's flagship gallery at Kelvingrove. John was inspired to make his offer after reading that Julian had bought a bust of Council leader Pat Lally for £10,000 earlier in the year.

After he had recovered from the shock Julian wrote to John, "Much as I am an admirer of Harry Diamond's contribution to the city, I'm afraid that your bust, though very lively, is not a good enough work of art to enter the city's collections on loan."

An indignant John got his own back by turning a large area of his factory into an exhibition for his carvings and inviting the Lord Provost to open it. Among the works is my bust, carved from a piece of the mast of the sailing vessel Carrick, alongside one of Mother Teresa!

John was a regular visitor to the Victoria Infirmary where I spent a couple of weeks after my retirement. Since then his first words on his regular telephone calls are, "how's your wee body!" I got up one morning and collapsed in agony with a pain in the groin. I managed to dab myself with some water, get half dressed, and drive painfully to my doctor's surgery. He poked and prodded and gave me a note to give to the receiving surgeon at the Victoria.

The receiving surgeon poked and prodded, sent me for x-rays, poked and prodded again, and said to someone standing by, "Admit him to ward 5."

I said my car was in the street and my computer at home was on and the surgeon put a form in front of me and said, "If you refuse to stay here please sign this form absolving us from any blame when you drop dead in the street!"

"O.K., o.k. I'm staying!" Minutes later I was installed in a side room of ward 5 with none of the things one takes into hospital. I left a message on Harvie's answering machine and he brought me my toothbrush and other supplies in the afternoon.

A couple of days later I was operated on for a strangulated hernia, whatever that is. After a few days I was transferred to an annex where where there was a fine collection of shattered humanity.

One guy had both legs cut off above the knees. Of course he singled me out for a graphic description of the operation and what led up to it. Two guys had cancer. Two had emphysema and made breathing noises like some primeval monster dragging its way though a tunnel in the bowels of the earth. One was mute and retarded and walked about with a permanent vacant grin.

One gaunt, silent type gave the impression of being engulfed in suppressed fury. He was very tidy and obedient to the nurses, ate every meal with enthusiasm and talked very little. If he did, his badly articulated comments were generously sprinkled with the F word. He was a classic example of someone who has been subjected to prison discipline over fairly lengthy periods. He even held cutlery in an odd way, reminiscent of old films with Humphrey Bogart in Sing Sing.

The guy with no legs went on at great length about the lousy effing food. "Ah wiz aw right till ah came inty this fucking place and hud tae eat this fucking rubbish. That's how ah hud to get ma legs cut aff, frae eatin this fucking rubbish." At this point I looked up and announced, "I like the food here. I think I'll come here for my holidays." There was no response from my companions.

A woman came into the ward one day with the frame of a wooden stool and some cord and asked me if I wanted to weave a seat! I told her to come back in 30 years when I might be into that kind of thing.

An attractive lady in a white coat came into the ward quite regularly and used to look at me intently from a few yards away but she never came any nearer or spoke to me. One day I said to the ward sister, "Who is that lady who looks at me so intently but never speaks to me?"

"Oh, that's Madelaine, Mr Diamond. She's after your body."

I thought, Harry son, you've done it again. They just can't keep away from you.

Then the ward sister added, "She's a pathologist."