University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Once Again, a Fast Start

Shortly after I joined the LPH staff as research fellow and got my master’s thesis project under way, Ernst Simonson called me into his office one afternoon in consternation. The distinguished investigator was frustrated that a second journal had rejected his seminal paper entitled, in good German-style prose, “Differences in the normal 12-lead resting electrocardiogram among 478 women and 553 men, ages 40-59.”

I was pleased that he wanted my comment and asked him to let me study the article before rendering an opinion. Actually, I took the article straightaway to the professor’s secretary and asked her to address the editor of the best journal in the field, Circulation, and to send it by special delivery, redoing only the title, which I simply changed to “Sex Differences in the Electrocardiogram.” With no other change, the article was accepted and published, to Simonson’s great wonder and gratitude.

Shortly after deciding on the topic and methods for my thesis research on “The Total QRS Duration,” I had to select and recruit a population appropriate to norms for this new measurement in the new spatially corrected electrocardiogram. Having just returned from three years as medical officer in charge of a unit in the Public Health Service in Europe, it never occurred to me to be bashful about calling upon the commanding officer of the local Naval Air Reserve Station. I wore my uniform at my appointment with him and right away obtained his permission to set up shop in the barracks. There on weekends I enlisted a hundred or so gobs who volunteered for recording of a rest and exercise stereo-vector-electrocardiogram. In those records I was able by projection and magnification to measure the earliest onset and latest offset, in space, so to speak, of activation potentials of the heart muscle picked up from the body surface, and to describe the distribution of the activation time, or total QRS duration. The project was good training if not earthshaking research.

Some time later, I was called into Ancel Keys’s office, where several of the Lab’s senior investigators were assembled. They asked me to confirm the report that I had “done all this” on my own initiative. This mode of operation of a “population study,” with relative ease and independence, without fuss or bother or any funds at all, was admired by these enterprising pioneers in human biology. They thought more highly of it than had I.

Thus, early enterprise and a fortuitous “fast start” as a research fellow probably contributed to my eventual recruitment to the faculty of “the Lab,” the very different sort of place where I was to find a very different sort of medical career.

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