“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Return of the Missionary
On Tuesday last, I went to the Mississippi River docks to meet Dr. William Hughlett and his family as they arrived on furlough directly from the Congo. I watched their transport, the S.S. Dick Lykes, tie up at the Celeste St. Wharf, where, after some time, passengers were disembarked. The missionary doctor is thinner and grayer than when I last saw him but still vigorous and alert. Right away, he showed me boxes of a large dry leaf he has imported for pharmacologic analysis, based on claims of African native medicine men of its remarkable galactogenic properties. He believes much of what they say but doesn’t confirm their claims that the leaf brings up milk even among young nulliparous women and grandmothers!
Last evening I met again the Hughletts at the home of Bishop Brooks of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of this area. There we listened with great interest to Dr. Hughlett’s report on the inadequacy of his facilities and supplies to serve the 12,000 people of his Congo district. The chief medical problems in children are hookworm and malaria (the latter kills them rapidly), and in adults, tuberculosis, venereal diseases, trypanosomiasis, cataracts, and leprosy.
Dr. Hughlett is a generalist’s generalist and even does cataract surgery.
As we parted, I told him how he and his work were an inspiration to me and, I thought, a great service to mankind. But, smart-assed medical student, I also remarked in an aside that a perfect practice of medicine must be impossible in the mission field. He was affronted, as if I had slighted his medical ability and standards. I had thought that medicine in the field must of necessity be inferior to medicine practiced here, due to inadequate resources and facilities, native traditions, and human frailty. But I immediately regretted my remark.
Fortunately, the Hughlett family’s ship missed by two days the severe tropical hurricane now blowing itself out in the Gulf. Thursday afternoon it was clear that the storm would strike near New Orleans, and as warnings were posted the breeze freshened, the sky became salmon-hued, and our senses heightened with anticipation. Friday morning, the storm at a peak, I made my way to the main hospital building to work the switchboard, amidst falling palm fronds, crackling branches, up-rooted trees, and heavy gusts of wind and horizontal rain. Patients, staff, and sundry refugees milled about the foyer like abandoned animals. We should be grateful, in fact, that the storm was considerably spent before it hit us, a city lower than sea level and made up of poor houses and strange, proud, stubborn folks.
In the news, Henry Wallace arrived in Texas to campaign today and was greeted by red banners. Laughingly he remarked, “I wonder what oil man paid for that.”
I visited John Archinard today, an internist at the Ochsner Clinic who spent two years on the house staff at the American Hospital of Paris. He warned me of charlatans, lower medical ethics, smelly wards with unbleached linens and open urine collections, and much patient-stealing by the docs, which I would encounter in France. In contrast, he eulogized the French clinician, his superiority in peripheral vascular diseases, cardiology, fluoroscopy, and neurology. We speculated that in a couple of years, if I should get the Paris appointment, the politico-economic situation should be changed, either much better or much worse.
Last night I attended the Rudolf Matas Award ceremony for Robert Gross, a Boston surgeon recognized for his work to correct congenital defects of the heart and great vessels. Dr. Matas, pioneer vascular surgeon, missed the ceremony. He’s touring Spain at age 90!
The following quotation from John Farrelly, in a New Republic book review, recently caught my eye: “The victim is characteristic of our time — the classic modern hero; undefined, pervasive fear, emotional and physical insecurities, sexual neuroses, the abnegation of beliefs, the loss of values, a general cynicism and brutality: these are universal disasters.”
The Owl Club, a student-faculty liaison body, met last night and passed a resolution to discourage founding a chapter of AIMS, Association of Interns and Medical Students, at Tulane. I can’t believe that I once subscribed to their conservatism. I suppose that my professional status could be at risk over the protest philosophy that I’m now brewing.
I saw “Crossfire” today, the most socially aware film to come out of Hollywood on anti-semitism.