Of Bassett, Loeb, Apgar, and Whipple
A couple items in the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of P&S inspired me to write, and if I remember rightly a while ago you were asking for people to send in memories of their P&S days so here goes. I was in the class of 1946.
The article about the Columbia-Bassett program brought back fond memories. The article says the Bassett Columbia affiliation began in 1947. You should know that before that, in 1945, a few of us spent a three-month clerkship in the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown during a beautiful fall season as pictured in the journal. It was very impressive how high class a small rural hospital could be (endowments help) and it was a wonderful experience. We learned a lot and it was academically very fulfilling. During the time we were there I wanted to get to Vassar as much as possible because my future wife was teaching there. Cars weren’t easy to come by in those days but since we were in uniform, hitchhiking was rather easy, even in the boondocks. We also got to go horseback riding at one of the nurses’ farm. A wonderful change from the big city for us. I do know that Bassett Hospital is a much larger institution than when I was there and I’m sure the students will have a great education in a great place.
In the letters section there were comments about living with Dr. Loeb. He was quite the showman, a very good teacher, and he preached working hard to be the best doctor possible. The intense discipline of those days is long gone. But from a student’s point of view I found the best way to get along was to keep as low a profile as possible. Once I got the big question during walking rounds with all the entourage and got it right, thank God. I was very impressed — but not him.
The operating rooms were always a source of wonder. We went up to the OR balconies to watch when we were in the early years, and I remember vividly the smells etc. as we scrubbed with soap and water, then rubbed our hands and arms with powdered bleach and then rinsed in those big tubs of alcohol. Then we got to hold the retractors through some of those long cases of Drs. Whipple and Blakemore, where every one except the medical student got relief from time to time.
Another small episode that sticks in my mind happened when I was taking an anesthesia elective clerkship. I was doing a smaller elective case for Dr. Whipple under Dr. Apgar’s supervision. We used open drop ether. After the induction Dr. Apgar, who was teaching with a steady stream of chatter, which was much appreciated, said that she wanted to use one of these new gadgets, an endotracheal tube. She said that Dr. Whipple hated these things and didn’t want us to use them so I was to keep the ether mask over the tube so he couldn’t see it and all would be OK. I did and he never knew.
I was interested in your new curriculum, having lived thru a curriculum change when I was an associate dean for clinical services at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. When I was there from 1984-1988 we too had a rural program in the upper peninsula to teach students near home in hopes they would go into rural practice. It is still going but I don’t have any follow up on how many stayed in the UP afterward.
Nothing like hearing about the really old days.
East Lansing, Mich.
Dr. Loeb in Context
I share the views of recent correspondents who have extolled the encyclopedic knowledge, prodigious memory, unique and important clinical research, diagnostic acumen, cogent literary references, leadership qualities, and excellent teaching skills of Dr. Robert Loeb. However, absent is the context in which the critical and ardent attitude of Dr. Loeb and his colleagues was formed. Dr. Loeb and his generation were schooled, trained, and assumed responsibility for patient care in an era devoid of antibiotics, steroids, refined fluid and electrolyte balance, respiratory ventilators, aortic balloons, CAT scans, MRIs, etc. Illnesses that today are easily diagnosed and treated were often major challenges. Morbidity and mortality rates were substantially higher. At times all the clinician had was conscientiousness and solemnity. Good clinicians and good teachers demanded gravitas of the student and colleague, and Dr. Loeb’s habit of rewarding the volunteered answer was an acknowledgement of his respect for the self-confidence and alertness of the respondent to observation, literature, or text. Thoroughness in the care and loyalty to the patient emphasized by Dr. Loeb is ingrained in the tradition of P&S.
Joseph M. Bennett’48
I spent many hours playing on the Rachmaninoff piano in Bard Hall (Spring/Summer 2009 issue, “The Rachmaninoff Piano”). We were quite sure of its provenance as Rachmaninoff had signed his name inside the piano on the sounding board. What a turn-on it was to be playing his “Prelude in G Minor” on a piano he, himself, had used in concertising. It needed some work at that time, so we raised $3,000 and had done what was needed — not a complete restoration. Most likely the signature was obliterated by subsequent restorations.
My classmate, Albert Sherwin, a brilliant and gifted musician, amused and delighted us frequently with his playing. He was inspired by the instrument to write and produce a musical comedy, a parody on medical school life. It was quite a professional production. He could have worked on Broadway productions rather than doing psychiatry at Cornell. Performed at graduation time, the show included hilarious takeoffs on certain faculty members. Of note was the performance by Larry Weed, a male student (there were only four women in our class of 120) who impersonated Dr. Virginia Kneeland Frantz, a popular and revered surgical pathologist. Dressed and coifed for the occasion, his rendition of a song Albert wrote brought down the house. I wish I could recall more of the wonderful lyrics. Here are the lyrics that I recall:
“I mess around with masses,
the whole day through/
A slice of tissue passes the time of day/
Mitosis in grand, and/
Purdy’s* good, but awfully, awfully slow…”
*Purdy was Dr. Purdy Stout in surgical pathology.
Maybe others can recall more of the lyrics.
Alex Caemmerer Jr.’47
Congratulations to the administration for developing a policy that bans smoking inside and outside the medical center.
Many years ago, with the help of Tom King of the Department of Surgery, Kirby Cunningham of the Department of Medicine, and someone in the administration’s safety department (she was a very important contributor but unfortunately I don’t remember her name), we were finally able to convince the hospital administration to ban smoking in all medical center buildings. Although we achieved our goal, surprisingly the ban was motivated by fire safety issues, not health. It was a long arduous battle, with some of the doctors as well.
I used to give a lung anatomy lecture to the first-year medical students that always finished with “Anybody who smokes is a damn fool. Any doctor who smokes in front of his/her patients should be shot.” Of course I wasn’t recommending the “shooting” part, but the shock value was worth it. It was the only thing the students remembered of my lecture two years later.
Alfred Jaretzki III, M.D.
Professor Emeritus of Clinical Surgery
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