Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Literary Philadelphia

Avian Footnote

Waldo E. Nelson was a much revered professor of Pediatrics at Temple University School of Medicine for several decades. He was the original source of fame for St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, a powerful and revered teacher, and has recently been mentioned as the "Father of Pediatrics." He died in 1997 at the age of 98.

Saint Christopher Hospital

Everyone admitted he was a demanding task-master, to the point of eccentricity. That's a quality almost essential in any editor of a multi-author textbook because authors regularly procrastinate in submitting their contributions, while publishers have rigid deadlines and no patience at all with editors who ask to extend them. The central element in Nelson's fame was his 1600-page textbook of Pediatrics, with more authors than it is reasonable to count in the decades it was published and re-published, eventually establishing itself as the standard work in the field. Nelson applied discipline to his resident physicians, too. One former resident recently recalled his forbidding a husband and wife resident pair to eat lunch together in the hospital cafeteria. Not in my hospital, you won't.

What his family life was like is not reported, but it can easily be imagined that he had rebellious children. One day he instructed his daughter to prepare a complete index of the textbook for the next edition. Apparently there was some resistance, eventually quashed. And to emphasize how unlikely it was that anyone would read an index very carefully, the book went through editing and proof-reading, and was in the bookstores for several months before anyone noticed the entry tucked away under "Birds".

BIRDS, For the. page 1-1650.

Originally published: Thursday, June 07, 2007; most-recently modified: Monday, May 20, 2019