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October 24, 1990

Consoling Mrs Byrne

Author Affiliations

Rochester, Minn

Rochester, Minn

JAMA. 1990;264(16):2121. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450160091038

It was an unusually warm, sunny July day in 1968 that stretched into an equally beautiful balmy night in Dublin. The late evening sun slanted its yellow shafts through the tall windows of the old Mater Misericordiae Hospital wards, which faced out toward the distant, darkening Wicklow hills. A faint hum of conversation came from the wards as I slowly trudged along the dimly lit corridors toward St Agatha's Ward, where I had to talk with Mrs Byrne. I was not looking forward to the task.

I had arrived at the hospital a week earlier to begin the first six months of my internship in surgery. My attending physician was a middle-aged surgeon known to everyone as Johnny (except to his face). He had operated on me when I was a child, and I had later come to appreciate his wit and wisdom during my years in medical school, when I attended his teaching clinics at the hospital. Johnny believed that a physician's education came primarily from dealing with patients and that the more academic aspects of training provided the scaffolding on which clinical experience was draped in ever-growing layers. He was a wonderful raconteur, and for him,