David Bruce: Doctors Anecdotes

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In 1980, speed skater Eric Heiden won five gold medals in individual events at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. This made him the most marketable athlete of that Olympics, and he could have spent the rest of his life making a living as a sports celebrity. However, he made a few endorsements that he considered tasteful, then he devoted himself to something more important than cashing in on his fame. He attended Stanford University as a pre-med student, and in 1991 he graduated from Stanford Medical School. Today, he is a practicing orthopedic surgeon like his father before him. He says, “Now I’m giving back to society, doing something important. I’m now what I consider a productive person in our society.” These days, Dr. Heiden occasionally loses track of the locations of his gold medals. One was missing for a while until he found it in a closet, buried under some clothing.

Many gymnastics coaches believe that a person can’t be a world-class gymnast and an academic student at the same time. However, the East Germans disagreed strongly. At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Karin Janz won gold on the vault and uneven bars, silver in the all-around, and bronze on the beam, but she studied throughout her gymnastics career. In fact, when she retired from gymnastics, she immediately entered medical school. She graduated, became an orthopedic surgeon who often does hip and knee replacements, and she has helped develop an artificial intervertebral disc. She is happy in her work and says, “Can you imagine how a doctor feels when a person who has endured severe pain for years suddenly shows signs of improvement?”

Suzanne Farrell, a ballerina with the New York City Ballet, suffered from arthritis late in her career. She tried many things in an attempt to cure the disease, including going to a homeopathic doctor, who had her take many minerals, including silver and gold, in an attempt to replenish her cartilage. When her husband, Paul Mejia, saw the labels on the bottles of minerals, he told her, “Honey, you’re worth almost as much inside as out.” The homeopathic treatment didn’t work; eventually, she received a hip replacement.

Playwright George Kaufman was a hypochondriac. He once called his personal physician, Dr. Menard Gertler, and said dramatically, “I need you immediately!” Dr. Gertler rushed to Mr. Kaufman’s house only to see Mr. Kaufman in perfect health and holding a stopwatch. Mr. Kaufman explained, “I wanted to see how long it would take you to get here if I were really ill.” (Mr. Kaufman once joked that he kept a careful watch on a man one year older than himself “to see what I’m going to catch next year.”)

For a while, Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, worked 80- and 90-hour weeks as a freelance technical writer. Eventually, she went to a therapist, but she soon quit because he kept falling sleep during their sessions. Especially upsetting her was that the therapist fell asleep only when she talked about good things; whenever she talked about bad things, he was extremely attentive. This, she felt, reinforced her negative feelings and was a second good reason to stop seeing the therapist.

During Prohibition, medicinal alcohol was still legal. Workers in the Chrysler plant near Highland Park, Michigan, used to go to a certain doctor and tell him that they were suffering from “shaky nerves.” The doctor knew exactly what would calm their nerves — he would immediately write out a prescription for a pint of whiskey. A drugstore located one floor below the doctor’s office filled the prescription.

In her day, Margaret Trudeau was quite a celebrity of the jet set, hanging out with the likes of husband Pierre (the Prime Minister of Canada), the Rolling Stones, Ryan O’Neal, and Jack Nicholson — and being constantly talked about in the media. Once, she went to a physician because she felt paranoid, but the physician reassured her, “Everybody is watching you. That’s not paranoia. That’s reality.”

Mary Walsh served as a nurse in Vietnam, and she was present on November 11, 1993, when the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C. At the ceremony, she met a former patient, a veteran in a wheelchair. The veteran smiled at her and said, “I wanted to find you” — then he stretched out his right arm and added, “to show you I can use my arm again.”

During the First World War, some American soldiers newly arrived in France found a Frenchwoman, the patronne of a hotel, grieving over the blindness of her newborn son. The soldiers learned that a famous American surgeon was stationed in France, so they took the baby boy to the surgeon. In just two weeks, the American surgeon cured the baby boy of his blindness.

Quaker humorist Tom Mullen once complained to his doctor about the fact that he needed to go to the restroom several times a night and that he often suffered from gastritis. His doctor asked how old he was, and after hearing the answer said, “You’re right on schedule.”

Some gynecologists don’t think enough about what they say. For example, Gail Sausser tells a story about a male intern saying before he inserted a speculum, “Here I come.” (She recommends doctors who are women, as they warm and lubricate the speculum before inserting it.)

Olympic medal-winning swimmer Jenny Thompson was incredibly focused on winning. In 1994, she broke her arm, and shortly afterward, her coach discovered her working out in the gym despite her stitches — something that was definitely against her doctor’s orders.

Deaf people are sometimes at a disadvantage in doctors’ offices. For example, a deaf man was giving a urine sample when a nurse knocked on the door. Of course, the deaf man didn’t hear the knock, so he didn’t warn the nurse he was in there, and the nurse caught him in an embarrassing position.

Donald L. Cooper, M.D., is the team physician of the football and basketball teams of Oklahoma State University. His license plate says: “JOC DOC.”

An elderly churchgoer had arthritis, so her doctor told her not to get on her knees unless the Lord was coming.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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