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Saturday, August 21, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (9)

         Friends, I am posting two units this week to break the monotony of the series. One is Number 9 in the series on Life's lessons - Who taught me what? The other is on Vedic mantras for meditation and prayer. 

 Dr. F. Howell Wright

Another great person I came to know was Dr. F. Howell Wright, who was the Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. He taught me how a person in position of authority and respect should treat others irrespective of their positions.

After I reached Binghamton NY for my internship, I applied to several hospitals for my pediatric residency. University of Chicago (Bobs Roberts Hospital was its name at that time. The name has changed twice since then) was one of them.  One day, I received a phone call from Dr. Wright. He said: “I am travelling by Binghamton on my way to Syracuse with my daughter. I would like to stop by at your hospital and meet with you, since you may not be able to come to Chicago for interview”. I was stunned, particularly coming from India where most Professors sit on their “thrones” and look down upon juniors! He came to my room and interviewed me. Then, called my local mentor Dr. Jim Johnson and spoke with him.

Later, after he reached Chicago, he offered a residency at the University of Chicago Hospitals. By the time I heard from him I had accepted an offer from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I could not accept the offer and I felt guilty doing so. I felt so guilty that I decided to go and spend a year with Dr. Howell Wright between my residency and fellowship years at CHOP (1960-61). I am so glad I did. For one thing, I learnt many more things from him about kindness, compassion and, clinical medicine. I also learnt important differences between private practice-based medicine (CHOP) and medicine as practiced by fully paid staff (University of Chicago).

Dr. Howell Wright was a Quaker who had studied at Haverford College, Haverford, Pa. He was such a great gentleman and Statesman. He  was President of the American Board of Pediatrics for a few years.  After he retired, he came back to the Philadelphia area and lived at the Kendall (Longwood). Ramaa and myself  used to visit him often. Those visits also taught us to consider living our senior years at a place like the Kendall. Now here I am at the Cokesbury Village.

Dr. Thomas McNair Scott

Dr. McNair Scott was a great clinician and a researcher. We (me and Ramaa) used to be invited to his home during holidays. There we will meet trainees from several parts of the world and our discussions used to be very stimulating and interesting about various countries and their cultures. That is where both of us learnt why it is important to invite trainees to our home and get to know them and get educated in the process. We had many sessions in our house with pediatric and rheumatology trainees and recreated the experience we had in Dr. Scott’s house.

Once I visited Dr. Scott when he was 98 years old and was living in a Senior Home. I found that he was learning sign language. When I asked “why”, he said: “Balu, several people here do not hear well. That is why I am learning sign language so I can communicate with them”. The lesson for me was: “if he can learn at 98, none of us have excuse for not learning something new at any age”.

One other influential teacher at CHOP was Dr. Samuel X.Radbill. He instilled an interest in the history of medicine in me. He was the one who told me that the world’s first pediatrician was Jivaka, who was the personal physician to Buddha. Dr. Radbill also gave me a copy of Kashyapa Samhita in which this fact is mentioned. If you go to Bangkok, you can see a statue of Jivaka in a sitting position at the entrance to the famous Golden Buddha shrine.

Dr. Radbill’s interest was in the history of medicine. He has written several articles on this subject. (I have given a collections of historic articles written by him and some historic books on medical subjects to the Library at the Nemour’s Children’s Hospital). He also had a collection of valuable first printing (that means soon after invention of the printing press) of  of medical books in his personal library whch I had the privilege of seeing and touching.

Experiences at the Children’s Seashore House (CSSH) and Dr. Henry Cecil

Dr. Cecil gave me strong education on the grounding principles of chronic care and coordination of care. Later he helped me become effective in Family-centered, Community-based, culturally sensitive, Coordinated care of children with rheumatic diseases.

The therapists at the CSSH taught me several things such as:  In chronic care in which several professionals are involved, we need one coordinator and decision maker; Parents need one person to talk to. (That is how I started developing the idea of a Nurse Coordinator); Most children with chronic and less common conditions live far away from big cities and academic centers. Therefore, academic centers should develop outreach services. (We conducted such clinics in Pennsylvania for over 20 years); Parents of children with newly diagnosed chronic conditions need support to cope with the impact of the condition on the patient, siblings, parents, and the school system. That realization resulted in the development of Parent support groups. 

I had one bad experience at the Children’s Seashore House which taught me the difference between ambition and vision. I realized that ambition is self-centered; vision is “other” centered. Vision also needs ambition. But ambitious people are interested only in their ego and personal advancement. People with vision care about the “whole” picture and everyone around.

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