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Surgical Reminiscence
June 1998

When Giants Walked the Land

Arch Surg. 1998;133(6):681-682. doi:10-1001/pubs.Arch Surg.-ISSN-0004-0010-133-6-srm7001

THIS NEW section in the ARCHIVES may be the perfect forum to pass on some surgical folklore to a generation of politically correct surgical trainees and young surgeons who may have never known a true character. Such a man was George Edward Block who died July 17, 1994. In the obituaries that followed, his multiple accomplishments were outlined and he was justifiably lionized as a man above men, a master surgeon, and an individual for whom the mores of the herd meant little.

George spent most of his professional career at the University of Chicago, and it is there that he forged his reputation, most memorably captured in the now-legendary book on the training of surgeons, Forgive and Remember by Charles Bosk. He published and lectured extensively, most notably in the fields of inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal carcinoma. When he spoke, all listened, because everyone knew that this man was speaking not only from knowledge but also from personal experience. In a debate or discussion, he could be eloquent or witty and yet in the next sentence disembowel his antagonist. George could be as profane and crude as a truck driver or as gentle as a lamb, and the presence of male or female medical students, nurses, or patients had little bearing on which persona he would assume. But despite this seeming lack of civility, no physician ever had a more devoted following of his patients, who all recognized that this surgeon was willing to confront their worst fears, exorcise them, fight their surgical battles win or lose, and always return to comfort them and their loved ones. To accomplish this, he was possessed of great physical and emotional strength and he passed this on to those who worked with him. But enough generalities; what about the human side of George Block?

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