With time I have reflected on this calling I have followed. At times I regret the extent of the costs doing so has extracted. But as one compelled to know all that can be known it has been more blessing than curse. And the curse has been that of Cassandra, the very capacity I longed for. Yes. It does seem we get what we want more often than what we think we want.
Seeking to control the budget while enjoying the new Kindle I have sought out low or no cost reading through Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Amazon and others. It has led me to revisit the wonders of literary and historical classics; so enriching. Yet it is saddening. even realizing these old masters are culled from hundreds of thousands of works whose merit has not sustained; I wonder where today is the eloquence and the grasp of great ideas of our earlier histories? I pray they are there; simply obscured by the plethora of banal digital chattering.
It is inevitable that I would be drawn to the commentaries and great histories of my earliest passions that led me to my profession. Following the path of my personal history, first came naturalism and stories demonstrating the slow development of the science necessary for understanding. I began with a recent book Species Seekers, by —- Richard Conniff; then quickly found Peattie’s magnificent Green Laurels, 1936 , and further to the incredible Encyclopedias of Thomas Browne, a physician writing in the period between Copernicus and Newton; and some from the Greeks and Romans.
I have now moved on to reading of the history of medicine. Dimly perceived for years I am now so acutely aware of the fact of how representative of the nature of a culture is the treatment of suffering and the ill. I now believe this paradigm to extend beyond representation and is a generator of values, a powerful civilizing force in its own right. It is best described by a 1664 quotation of Franciscus Sylvius,* near the ending of Sir William Osler’s The Evolution of Modern Medicine.**
“I have led my pupils by the hand to medical practice, using a method unknown at Leyden, or perhaps elsewhere, i.e., taking them daily to visit the sick at the public hospital. There I have put the symptoms of disease before their eyes; have let them hear the complaints of the patients, and have asked them their opinions as to the causes and rational treatment of each case, and the reasons for those opinions. Then I have given my own judgment on every point. Together with me they have seen the happy results of treatment when God has granted to our cares a restoration of health; or they have assisted in examining the body when the patient has paid the inevitable tribute to death.”
I hear in this the echoes of Hippocrates. This emphasis on the fact of the suffering first bringing knowledge to those of us sharing the passion to provide succor. I believe it touches the very heart of the medicine and I believe equally much of what civilization is; this sharing and forming an alliance of pilgrims in the quest for relief of the suffering inherent to the human condition. What better example of the instinct or learned impulse to seek out each other in times of pain and fear than how following a natural or unnatural catastrophe, the streets fill with people?
** Franciscus Sylvius, a disciple of Van Helmont, established the first chemical laboratory in Europe at Leyden, and to him is due the introduction of modern clinical teaching. (I would question how modern.)
**Osler, William (2012-05-17). The Evolution of Modern Medicine A Series of Lectures Delivered at Yale University on the Silliman Foundation in April, 1913 (Kindle Locations 2248-2254). . Kindle Edition.