Happy Birthday, Country Doctor

July is my birthday month. This year is one year past my halfway mark; a year ago I had lived half my life in Sweden and half in the United States.

Over the past few years my interest in medical history and the philosophy of medicine has deepened. It may be something every physician goes through at my age, or it may just be my way of dealing with the ever-quickening pace of change and the seeming loss of values in medicine today.

I recently bought Osler’s “The Evolution of Modern Medicine” and had been contemplating getting Harvey Cushing’s Pulitzer-prize winning biography of Osler. Somehow I never got around to buying it, and life got busy enough that I forgot about it.

My birthday came, and my wife gave me a small gift. “Your big gift didn’t come yet”, she said. In a remote, small town you do a fair amount of shopping through catalogs or the Internet. I waited for a week, and then, talking to my wife on the phone at lunch, she happened to be going down to the mailbox while we were on the cell phone.

“Your birthday gift came”, she said. “Wait while I open the package”. Next, I heard rustling of paper, followed by “Oh, wow”, after which she said nothing for a long time.

“You are going to be so pleased”, she said, but she wouldn’t tell me anything more. I had waited a week for my big birthday present, and now I had to wait until the end of the day.

After supper, I unwrapped two big packages that were obviously books. I, too, said “wow” when I opened the second one. The first one was Volume II of Cushing’s biography of Sir William Osler. The second package contained Volume I, signed by Harvey Cushing himself! The used-book dealer had not even listed the book as signed by the author.

Looking at the massive, two-volume work by the founder of modern neurosurgery, I was touched by how much time and effort must have gone into it and by the obvious respect Cushing had for Osler. I was struck by Osler’s wide-ranging interests, passion for medical education and commitment to the medical profession. I have struggled my entire career with finding a balance between seeing patients and feeding my soul by studying and creating. Clearly, the giants of modern medicine took time for other things, and that did not diminish the importance of their clinical work.

As I now sit here, a 57-year old physician who has spent the last 31 years in this profession, I hold in my hand a book about Osler, signed by the author, Harvey Cushing himself, in 1926. I feel a renewed commitment to my life’s work, the only profession I ever considered from the age of four.

I feel very fortunate, indeed.

1 Response to “Happy Birthday, Country Doctor”

  1. 1 Carolyn Hastie August 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Happy birthday and enjoy your books! I enjoyed reading your post, thanks for sharing.

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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.



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