I was a mortician before I became a physician. While in school in Dallas for that training, I had the great fortune of working for a radiation oncologist who pioneered radioisotope therapy. He had a tiny little facility where he discretely treated people from around the world. He had friends in high places, including presidents, statesmen, and scientists.
One day he asked me to drive him to Love Field (yes, THAT Love field) and pick up a friend of his. Dr. Maxfield owned a pair of DC3 airplanes that had been rebuilt and were pretty slick. We drove up to one of them and he disappeared into the plane. He appeared at the door a moment later and waved me up.
When I entered the plane, he introduced me to a short, squat, busy-eyebrowed man with a thick German accent. His name was Edward Teller. Dr. Teller was the mind behind the hydrogen bomb.
All the way back to the hospital, Dr. Teller sat in the front seat and peppered me with questions while I drove. Where did you grow up? Where are you in school? Tell me about the curriculum in mortuary school. What is the training like to be a mortician?
By then, we had arrived at our destination. He shook my hand and wished me well. I told him I had a question for him. “You are who you are. Why would you care anything about a kid trying to find his way in the world?” He answered and smilingly said, “Will Rogers said it best, ‘Everyone is ignorant about something.’ Now I know about mortuary school!”
One of the most brilliant minds in human history had taken the time to mentor a young man about having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and in doing so, remaining humble.
It was a defining moment in my young life, and that lesson has largely directed my path. I endeavor to learn as much as I can about my patients’ lives. I am all the more enriched by my experiences. Ignorance is curable. It is not something bad, it is only something to grow past.
Richard E. Draper, a double board-certified emergency medicine physician, blogger, and speaker, and practices in the Kaleidoscope Weekly distribution area. The Healer’s Heart is based on his perceptions and observations of his experiences in the ER over his career. Any similarities to actual patients are purely coincidental.