Philadelphia Reflections

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

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Personal Reminiscences
One of the features of aging past ninety is accumulating many stories to tell. Perhaps fewer are left alive to challenge insignificant details.

George Ross Fisher III M.D. : Memoirs
New topic 2018-08-23 16:15:31 description

Stuart Banyar Blakely MD 1950
New topic 2018-08-27 22:30:43 description

Going Down with All Flags Flying

They tell me every man is a little afraid of his father-in-law. I was certainly afraid of mine. He was a giant of a man, and no one called him gentle. As a college student at little Hamilton College he was named to Walter Camp's All-American football team, subsequent to a famous game at West Point. In those days, wearing a helmet was the mark of a sissy, and kicking the opponent in the groin was nothing much. In off-season he went out for track and field and held the American record for the forty-pound hammerthrow for a number of years afterward. Believe me, he was plenty big. As an intern at the old Roosevelt Hospital in New York he used to volunteer to ride the ambulance into Hell's Kitchen, mostly for the fun of being able to mix into the bathroom fights.

Now, the really intimidating part of his character as far as a nerdy son-in-law was concerned, was intellectual. His roomate at Hamilton had been Alexander Woollcott, the man who came to dinner. My mother-in-law despised Alexander, as apparently every hostess did. But my father-in-law enjoyed him thoroughly, and would invite him to give a lecture at the local Torch Club in Binghamton as a way of showing the local disbelievers just who really knew whom. My in-laws lived in a small city in upstate New York which seemed to me to have invented the concept of provincialism, but I kept my opinion private. My father-in-law felt no need to conceal his opinions, and that too put me in awe. He didn't go around calling his neighbors a bunch of narrow-minded blockheads, but it was definitely true that his favorite expression was, "Well, that comment of yours is ridiculous, of course." As a man who could hold his own at the Algonquin Round Table as well as against the Army offensive line, he said just about anything he pleased.

I truly believe he was an outstanding physician, although I never saw him in action as a physician. He belonged to some of those snotty surgical societies which would be unlikely to admit a man from a small town unless he had more than distinguished himself. Societies like that do have a certain number of dolts in their membership, but such dolts are almost invariably from Harvard or Johns Hopkins or some similar place where being a sycophant to the society president back at home can occasionally get you admitted as a favor to the great man. That sort of thing is unlikely to get someone admitted from a small town, unless he is an individual of unusual distinction. Even beyond such honors, I talked medicine with him quite a bit, and I am left with the feeling that he knew what he was talking about. As we say in the medical locker rooms, he was my kind of doctor.

But one day his time was up. He called us to say goodbye, just before he underwent emergency surgery from which he held scant hope of recovery. His surgeon was much more encouraging to us on the telephone, but when we arrived, he told us of the conversation he had conducted with his patient. As nearly as I can recall what he said, it went like this:

"Dr. Blakely, I think you have appendicitis, and we must operate immediately." "Nonsense. I have mesenteric thrombosis and I Know it."

"No, said the surgeon, "I believe you have appendicitis. It's quite typical."

"Will it do any good to operate on me if I have mesenteric thrombosis?"

"No," replied the surgeon. "But I believe you have appendicitis and an operation will save your life."

"Now listen here," said my father-in-law, "My own father died of mesenteric thrombosis in 1922. Since that time, I have read everything that was ever written on the subject. Have you?"

"Well, no, I haven't, but I have seen a lot of cases of appendicitis, and I think you ought to be operated on immediately."

The old man looked him hard in the eye, and waited a minute. And then quietly said, "Very well."

As anyone can guess from the way I tell the story, he had a mesenteric thrombosis in his belly when the surgeon opened him up. And he was dead before my wife, his new grandson and I arrived to be at the bedside.

 

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