The Final Swan Song of Dr Sir Cecil Cyrus
Let me first correct an error I made some weeks ago when I referred to Barbados as being the only Commonwealth Caribbean country to have appointed living national heroes. It has been brought to my attention that Sir Kennedy Simmonds who is still alive is a national hero of St. Kitts, and of course, Sir Vivian Richards who was appointed a national hero in 2006.
On November 2020 I had written what I thought was Dr Cyrus’ final swan song, A Potpourri-The Swan Song of a Caribbean Surgeon. To my surprise I was recently presented with his final swan song. While many of us reacted in shock to the racist remarks levelled at three British footballers who had missed penalties resulting in England’s defeat by Italy in the finals of the 2021 European Football championship played at Wembley on July 11, Cecil Cyrus took a different approach. For him, “racial prejudice had raised its ugly venomous head.” He pulled out his pen again, still not computer literate and penned his final swan song. He was also at that time disturbed by the edict in another Caribbean country to ban the selling of soft drinks at school. Two short articles on those two subjects therefore are his parting literary shots, in fact “A Hotchpotch, A Literary Amalgam”.
The disgusting reaction by British fans to three of their top soccer players forced Cyrus to reminisce about his life as a medical student in Britain and Europe in the early 1950s. He transports himself back into that period and recalls reactions to him as a ‘negro’. Let us remember that ‘Black’ as a replacement for ‘negro’ is recent, at least dating back to the days of the Black Power Movement. As I sit before my computer I can see Peter Bergman’s The Chronological History of the Negro in America, Nathan Huggins’ Harlem Renaissance, with its second chapter on The New Negro and Benjamin Quarles’ The Negro in the Making of America. The author comments on the use of the word ‘negro’, “Whenever I describe myself as Negro, some persons are alarmed, as they feel I am belittling myself. Absolute rubbish! I am merely dignifying my race by the proper use of the word; for, what else am I? That word coloured, a smoke screen, makes me almost amorphous and without true, distinct recognisable identity. The word Negro describes the black man in his true and proper racial distinctiveness, with nobility that should command the respect of all men of whatever race . . .” This is how a conscious West Indian in England in the 1950s would have rallied in defence of being labelled ‘negro.’
His essay is about his experiences. He looks at the reaction of young children whose parents “had not warped their minds with racial prejudice” and who saw him as a ‘pleasant curiosity.’ On occasions when there was obvious blatant racism, he was prepared to let his work speak for itself and to gain the respect he was due. He sometimes ventured into the area of prejudice itself and bemoaned the attitude of some Caribbean persons/students to those who were from the smaller islands.
He referred to other cases of blatant racism encountered in later years. In his effort to get his major work published – His Clinical and Pathological Atlas, that had excellent reviews from his peers and authorities in the field, he was given an appointment to meet the librarian at the Welcome Trust. Even before reading it, the gentleman suggested that it would have been of interest to Negroes only. Cyrus reacted with all the verbosity he could muster, “This ‘verbal pus’ that flowed from his insanitary mouth categorised him at once as a carbuncle bulging with, an exuding that most odius of ‘human pus,’ racial prejudice, the greatest malignancy of human conduct . . .” He was able to use his scientific knowledge to put things into perspective as he did with the issue of skin pigmentation, looking at photographs of white and coloured persons and making the point that Prejudice has its origin in many causes, but skin pigmentation is undeniably the greatest factor.”
His essay on Functional Hypoglycaemia (Low Blood Sugar) is very informative. It is he notes, not acknowledged by the profession and not as much attention is paid to it as is needed. He had suffered from it for most of his life and was able to diagnose it in different people whose unruly behaviour could be attributed to it. His many examples are useful reflecting on cases where people had even collapsed and what was needed was simply something sweet. I have experienced such situations where persons just fell back on their chairs, seemingly unconscious.
His experience has shown that it is more common than is recognised. In his home he keeps something sweet around, mints, marmalade. His recommendation is not to ban the selling of sweet drinks on the school compound, since low blood sugar is more common than is thought among children and adults. This is well worth reading and the author hopes that the essay could be made widely available to schools here and in neighbouring islands. This final swan song is typical Cecil Cyrus, well documented with dates and even times when certain things happened. He was not only gifted with an excellent memory, but his documentation is unparalleled.