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On My Mind
December 2013

What Did I Know?

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester
  • 2The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
  • 3University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle

Copyright 2013 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(12):1096. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3449

There is a lot of chance and luck in life; how it plays out and the sequence of events, although seemingly random, could probably not be duplicated even within a grand scheme. At least, that is the way it appears to me given how my life and career were so significantly influenced and changed by a tragic, improbable event.

I think I was a pretty typical premedical student in the late 1950s and early 1960s, science and philosophy majors, always wanted to be a doctor (at least that is what my parents said), first in the family to do postgraduate work, coddled, perhaps pampered (“don’t disturb him, he has to study”), and feeling pretty good about the future (despite the Cuban missile crisis). That is until I actually got into and started medical school and realized what a slog it was in the first year, a tough transition from being an undergraduate; it was not anything like the romantic notion of diagnosing and healing and saving. So it was not so surprising that halfway through the first semester, I decided I had had enough—gross anatomy was totally grossing me out and the head of our anatomy course referred to me as “seedy,” which was also dispiriting. In those days, we had to go to class, which was mainly lectures without designated note takers, no computers, nothing even remotely like case presentations; I hated it! Plus, it was so parochial—mostly rote memorization (one of my classmates expressed his mental frailty as he tried to memorize all of Gray’s Anatomy and blamed the rest of us for years for his failure)—and of course, there was that cadaver, with a pair of us dissecting the whole thing—ugh! Fortunately my “body mate” was really into it and did all the work while I read the directions. This was not the exciting world I had imagined and I couldn’t see any end to it. It is so interesting to reflect on how much I loved surgery later on.

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