Kenneth G. McKenzie
1954, New York, NY
After his return from the trenches on the western front in World War I, Kenneth G. McKenzie set up a general practice in Toronto to support his wife and young family. As soon as the opportunity came his way he accepted an offer as house surgeon to Harvey Cushing in Boston, which led to his appointment as neurosurgeon at the Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto.
His was the first neurosurgical appointment in Canada. Dr. McKenzie used to say, somewhat mischievously, that it wasn't until Professor Archibald, McGilrs professor of surgery, saw him perform a selective trigeminal rhizotomy for tic douloureux by the middle fossa approach that Archibald decided it was time Montreal had a neurosurgeon. The result of this decision was the appointment of Wilder Penfield to McGill's medical faculty and the founding of the famous Montreal Neurological Institute.
Dr. McKenzie's father, Alexander F. McKenzie, practiced medicine in the village of Monkton, Ontario, where Kenneth attended primary school. Medicine must have been a natural career choice for the only son of a practitioner who became, according to the Alameda Times Star of 4 October 1951, the "oldest practicing physician in the British Empire," and who, "on the occasion of his 65th year of practice last year ... was signally honoured by his colleagues, by the King and Queen, and by the Lieutenant Governor (sic) of Canada." (This was a misprint for Governor General.)
In 1905, Kenneth graduated from elementary school in Monkton and was accepted into St. Andrew's College, which was then in Toronto. He eventually earned a First in General Proficiency and Second Class Honours. In his final year he played on the 2nd rugby team and the 1st cricket XI. He was beaten in the featherweight (115 lbs) boxing division but won at wrestling. The school's reputation in wrestling was at its peak in those years. In 1908 "Dutch" Bollard was the "the youngest schoolboy ever to achieve so great a success as coming second in the Canadian Wrestling Championship." McKenzie carried his athletic ability to the University of Toronto where he was captain of the senior medical rugby team the year it won the Mulock Cup, and he became intercollegiate bantam weight wrestling champion in his second year.
The photograph reproduced here was taken when he was at the zenith of his neurosurgical career. It gives the clear impression of modest amiability. What it conceals is his ruthless application to the mastery of a skill, whether professional or recreational. He was driven by a flair for invention and a compulsion for perfection. He practiced his golf swing by tirelessly beating golf balls by the bucketful against a net he had erected on his lawn at home. He attempted to analyze his swing by monitoring the pitch of a whistling device attached to the head of the club. He earned a place on the Canadian Seniors' golf team. He was no less dedicated to the pursuit of perfection in salmon fishing.
These personal qualities attracted neurosurgical trainees to whom Dr. McKenzie was a patient and very personal teacher. The first generation of Canadian neurosurgeons came from his stable. He was very much a part of that early band of brothers who were the American neurosurgeons between
the First and Second World Wars.
In his neurosurgical writings Dr. McKenzie held to the disciplined surgical line and avoided, even in later life, artless diversions and ruminations on his career and days gone by. Apart from solid reports of the results of treatment in acoustic neuroma, intracranial abscess, glioma, lumbar disc, and other conditions, his originality was demonstrated in articles on the treatment of spasmodic torticollis by intradural division of the spinal roots of the llth nerve and roots of the upper cervical nerve (1924, 1955), the mechanics of paraplegia and its surgical relief in non-neoplastic scoliosis (1927, 1949), the surgical treatment of tic douloureux (1925, 1933), intracranial division of the vestibular portion of the 8th nerve for intractable vertigo (1932, 1936, 1955), the results of frontal lobotomy in the treatment of mental disease (1946, 1954, 1964) and trigeminal medullary tractotomy (1955). He wrote short articles to demonstrate his designs of a leucotome for lobotomy, skull calipers for use in fractures of the cervical spine (with prompt acknowledgement, as soon as he became aware of its need, to Dr. Crutchfield who, unknown to Dr. McKenzie, had preceded him in describing a similar caliper), perforator and burr for the handoperated Hudson's brace, and a modification of the Cushing hemostatic clip.
He became, by consensus of those who worked with him, the most dexterous of brain surgeons. He was a magician, with economy of movement, sure of the next step, unfaltering and unflappable. These qualities were matched only by the admiration and affection he commanded among his residents.
Dr. McKenzie's death was as ordered and self-assured as his life. Having refused medicinal palliation in his last protracted illness, he decided the time had come to announce quietly to his family that he wouldn't be coming downstairs anymore, and three days later he died in February 1964.