image00402The Long Ordeal of James Brady

Cover Story, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 27, 1981

Pulitzer Prize Nomination

The six months since the President’s press secretary walked into an assassin’s line of fire have been a slow, painful, often courageous period of recovery

IT ALL BEGAN with a voice over the George Washington University Hospital intercom system: “All physicians in the trauma team to the ER . . . All physicians in the trauma team to the ER.” It was the hospital’s Code Orange disaster plan.

 When a single hospital administrator drops his reptilian doze and shows signs of life, it usually signals something extraordinary. When the Code Orange alert brought three high–level supernumeraries charging out of the administration building across the street and running through the rain puddles to the hospital’s 22d Street entrance, I knew that the disaster unfolding on this gloomy afternoon in Washington last March 30 was of unusual proportions. . . . Read Full Text...

Aphasia in Maurice Ravel

Bulletin of the Los Angeles Neurological Societies 41:109–114, 1976

Irwin Brody Award for the History of Neuroscience, Duke University, 1978

A SELECTIVE LOSS OF LANGUAGE resulting from left hemisphere cerebral lesions is familiar to all neurologists but only rarely does such a deficit allow preexisting extraordinary capabilities of the right hemisphere to emerge. A retrospective case history of French composer Maurice Ravel demonstrates such a right-sided cognitive system. At 58, Ravel was struck with aphasia, which quelled any further artistic output.

Most strikingly, he was able to think musically but unable to express his ideas in either writing or performance. Hemispheric lateralization for verbal (linguistic) and musical thinking offers an explanation for the dissociation of Ravel’s ability to conceive and to create. What makes Ravel’s history interesting to the public as well as to physicians is not only the tragic toll exacted in this composer’s personal and creative life but also the resultant loss of the output of one of the 20th century’s towering musical geniuses. . . . Read Full Text...

Ambergris in Your Cup

The Daily Grind—Understanding Your Habit

In Café: An Interview Magazine (Sydney) April/May 1995

Java drinkers are equally fond of chocolate, it seems. And why not? The caffeine of coffee and the xanthine of chocolate belong to the same chemical family of stimulants. The famous gastronome Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) hailed chocolate as “one of the most effective restoratives.” Java hounds looking for a new jolt might seek a cup of either café or chocolat ambré.

 According to Brillat–Savarin, “all those who have to work when they might be sleeping, men of wit who feel temporarily deprived of their intellectual powers, those who find the weather oppressive, time dragging, the atmosphere depressing; those who are tormented by some preoccupation which deprives them of the liberty of thought; let all such men imbibe a half-litre of chocolat ambré, using 60 to 70 grains of amber per half–kilo, and they will be amazed.”

 A grain is one–twentieth of a gram, and he refers to amber gris––the waxy, pleasant-smelling intestinal concretion of the sperm whale rather than the resinous, yellow tree-amber that is entirely different. Larousse Gastronomique laments that “such chocolate no longer exists.” It's a pity that ambergris figures only as a memory in confectionery and perfumery today. Hunting some down for your own taste buds is well worth the effort, however. Whether added to coffee or chocolate, I can attest to its rewarding effects and its abiding aroma that mysteriously lingers through the day. Once savored, its bouquet is forever seared in one's memory.

 In both Magistères Restaurants and Méditation VI, Brillat–Savarin praises ambergris chocolate as the “chocolate of the afflicted.” “I knew that Marshal Richelieu, of glorious memory,” he writes, “constantly chewed ambergris lozenges; as for myself, when I get one of those days when the weight of age makes itself felt––a painful thought––or when one feels oppressed by an unknown force, I add a knob of ambergris the size of a bean, pounded with sugar, to a strong cup of chocolate, and I always find my condition improving marvelously.”

 Whither such sagacity? Perhaps we'll rediscover some of it in our favorite cafes.

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Anton Chekhov: A Physician-Genius
in Spite of Himself

North Carolina Medical Journal 36:612-14;679-81;733-735: 37:29-31 1975-76


    The JOURNAL offers four installments of a study of a great physician, short story writer, and dramatist, Anton Chekhov, by a young medical student whose background has given him a particular appreciation of this giant of Russian literature. The list of doctors whose impulse demanded literary expression is endless—Rabelais, Goldsmith, Keats, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Maugham, William Carlos Williams, Weir Mitchell—and Chekhov’s name comes close to leading all the rest. The peculiar genius of Russian literature has had its most recent flowering in the person and works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose CANCER WARD is one of the best novels about medicine ever written. As Mr. doctorhims’s essay may suggest, Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn have much in common—compassion, zeal and, in the face of extreme adversity, an overwhelming concern for their fellow man. Their writings and their personalities speak particularly to all physicians.      Read complete article ...


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