University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Preface

Heredity, environment, free will, and chance — together — render a life fulfilled or a life thwarted. Here I tell about the people, the events, the training, and the chance opportunities of a rich life in medicine. The greatest joy has been the living of it. Now, not a little self-consciously, I take pleasure in the remembering and the writing of it, and, belatedly, in tendering thanks for it.

Volume I of these medical memoirs omits many central events of my medical life. I’ll try to explain.

My early career was in physiology and electrocardiography, with development of the Minnesota Code for electrocardiograms, and writing, with Geoffrey Rose, the World Health Organization manual, Cardiovascular Survey Methods. I also served as Project Officer for the Seven Countries Study, a pioneer study of heart disease around the world, led by Ancel Keys from our base in Minnesota. These topics are cursorily dealt with here because they were treated in detail in a companion volume, On the Trail of Heart Attacks in Seven Countries, copies of which are available (Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota, 1300 Second St. So., Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454).

The subsequent “mature” part of my career, beginning in 1972, centered around three areas, first serving as division head of Physiological Hygiene and then organizing a new Division of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota; participation in the major national heart attack prevention trials of the 1970s and 1980s; and, finally, development of Minnesota’s community research efforts, the Minnesota Heart Survey and Minnesota Heart Health Program.

These latter phenomena made up the larger part of my universe and acted like black holes, huge centripetal forces sucking in immense energy, stopping all time (and most thought!). Perhaps a few planets were colonized during all the cosmic turbulence, but much that could go wrong did. I was surely piloting in an orbit beyond my comfort. And those missions in space, important and challenging as they were, took me far from the real satisfactions of academia and from the joys of family life back on earth. Often they failed to meet the essential criterion, “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t epidemiology.” And they are still too recent and overwhelming to allow astronomical perspective.

Consequently, Volume II, dealing more fully and appropriately, I hope, with these more recent yet far-distant voyages, will require more thought and scholarship, as well as the passage of time. Here in Volume I, I trust that you will find interest in some of my stories about “a different sort of medical life” — in the relatively peaceful times leading up to chaos — when I became a “director” in 1972.

Henry Blackburn, M.D.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

December 31, 2000

Click to go onto the next chapter.