Neither Doctor nor Priest

It is the year of Woodstock. The motorcycle accident victim lies quietly in his hospital bed. By all accounts, the surgery has gone well and Richard’s initial prognosis had been good. But his vital signs are deteriorating and he seems distant and despondent.

Marcus Welby knows the trouble isn’t physical. He calls on the parish priest, who seems slow to respond. The priest, twenty years younger than Welby, is also his patient, and has been suffering from asthma attacks. Welby believes they are due to Father Hugh’s struggles with feelings of inadequacy as a priest.

Richard turns the priest away and appears to be dying. The priest feels ready to give up the priesthood.

Marcus Welby, who had been urging the younger priest to take a break because of his asthma, now urges him to get to work. He tells Father Hugh that he has also failed many times, but failures are no excuse for quitting. The gravity of the situation mobilizes new strength in Dr. Welby, and his humanity and passion inspire Father Hugh to admit to himself and the young accident victim that, even though he is a priest, he struggles like all human beings. That honesty makes young Richard open up to Father Hugh and he begins to recover.

What neither doctor nor priest could do alone, the two men working together are accomplishing. This is what happens in a December 1969 episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., “Neither Punch nor Judy”.

The cars seemed more old-fashioned than I remember them from those days, and the 1969 medical standards of care are definitely as old-fashioned as the cars, but the struggles of the three men from three different generations are timeless.

I decided to watch this episode after rereading my post “The Apostolic Nature of our Profession” when I linked to it the other day. The video illustrates many things about medicine that we are no better at today than 45 years ago, or 2,400 years ago, for that matter:

“The cure of the part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. No attempt should be made to cure the body without the soul. If the head and body are to be healthy you must begin by curing the mind…for this is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians first separate the soul from the body.”


1 Response to “Neither Doctor nor Priest”

  1. 1 Lisa August 8, 2014 at 1:47 am

    And the sad thing is that mental illness is so stigmatized in our society, especially among the medical community.

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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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