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Books, Journals, New Media
March 25, 1998

Fiction: Huston's Laws

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available

JAMA. 1998;279(12):962-963. doi:10.1001/jama.279.12.962-JBK0325-3-1

There are two main characters in this "idealized memory of internship": Ralph Terry, the intern who tells the story, and Ira Huston, the title character. Perhaps naming the novel after Huston shows some ambivalence on the part of the author. Which one is the hero anyway?

Ralph is intelligent, eager, idealistic, a little naive, and more than a little scared. Within the year (1961) he will have gained assurance, lost his innocence, and chosen his specialty.

At his first interns' and residents' meeting, he meets the man who will become his mentor and friend, Ira Huston, chief-resident in internal medicine. Huston has rushed in late, "his pockets overflow[ing] with notebooks, papers, pens of different colors . . . black hair falling over thick rimmed glasses . . . shirt wide open . . . no tie, no socks . . . his gown might have been white some ages earlier. . . . " He is the local maverick and gadfly, speaking out often and loud against pomposity and misused authority. Ira is popular with interns, nursing staff, and patients. His memory for the details of patients' charts is incredible, which he blames on spending his childhood years learning the Torah and Talmud by heart. "Best memory training in the world," he avows. His real fame, however, lies in Huston's Laws, a collection of aphorisms he has created or found elsewhere, devised to help the interns get through the year. There are ten altogether, for example, No. 6: Always check your floor patients before the night shift changes at eleven. Otherwise, the nurses will be glad to wake you at two in the morning for an aspirin prescription. Obviously, Ira Huston is a character who can run away with a novel (or book review) and must be carefully watched.