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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 25, 2010

A MODERN ABERNETHY

JAMA. 2010;304(8):911. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1064

While the passing away of a rugged personality, distinguished by sterling worth, is always a matter of regretful interest, it is doubly so when the vanished personality seems to represent a past or passing age. Such interest attaches to the death, in his ninety-fifth year, of Dr. John Burns of Glasgow. A tailor in his youth, he became a schoolmaster, and finally entered the medical profession, which he followed until within two years of his death. A shrewd and energetic practitioner and an able therapist, with the robust faith in remedies of the old school, he attained an extensive practice and great success, due mainly to that most important quality in the general practitioner—strong individuality. Many stories are told of him. While busily engaged in his consulting rooms which were frequented by great crowds he was, like the famous Abernethy, impatient of garrulousness. One day a woman entered his office and without saying a word removed a cloth from a scalded hand and held it out to the doctor. He examined it, cleaned it, snipped the blisters, and dressed it without a word being spoken on either side. As he was fixing the end of the bandage with a needle and thread (he always secured his bandages in this way, never with a pin), she said: “How much, sir?” “Nothing,” he replied. “You are the most sensible woman I ever met. Come back to-morrow at the same time.”

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