Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
“The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world.”
§ I have looked back at my life many times and have repeatedly asked myself the question: “What would I have done if I hadn’t been accepted to the medical school in Houston?”
I don’t rightly know. I feel very grateful to have been chosen for one of the positions at the Houston campus. Typically, there are dozens of applicants for each seat at a medical school. While my grades and experience may have been relatively impressive, they were not sterling. I feel like I could have been easily passed over there as I was at the other schools to which I applied.
It seems that the real answer is destiny, fate, karma. Based on my past, I was supposed to be there. To study and learn and struggle along with my mates, and maybe help people some day.
Medical education was a great place to start, even if the profession only held me for a few years. I have since figured many times that my career was relatively brief because, “You have done this before. Several times.”
I had my military and college experiences of medicine from several venues and angles. But, I surely had done many parts of the “program” before, in various climes and times.
If I hadn’t taken a position at UTMSH, this lifetime surely would have been different. But, things had been set in motion – for centuries, I now believe. The great state of Texas, its Texas Medical Center, and its Medical School were the places to which I was most appropriately and perfectly magnetized. I had accomplished one of two major challenges already. I was accepted into Medical School. That was a one-time affair. The other was a persisting lesson: Learning to keep my mouth shut. §
Kathy and I arrived at Houston in the winter of 1974. I took a job working at the Hermann Hospital Emergency Room as a vocational nurse until med school started in the summer. Kathy went to work – in of all places – the Medical Intensive Care Unit of Methodist Hospital. A heck of a place for an imperfect perfectionist.
My job was similar to that I had done after college in Fort Worth. I had worked briefly in hospital laboratory as a Med. Tech. in bacteriology and found it stifling and rather nonsensical. It was one of my many experiences that supports the generally unwelcome idea that, “Germs do not cause disease.”
So, I had gone back to nursing at John Peter Smith (County) Hospital as a night nurse. Things were busy and engaging. But, they also became problematic. The head nurse was a terror with staff and patients. I was there just a few weeks when two female nurses addressed me about a complaint to be made in writing under the auspices of the union on the demeanor of our leader. Well, I took it upon myself to get the complaint signed by ten or so employees.
The next time I came to work, security guards directed me off the property telling me to return at a designated time. Kathy, wearing her student nurse uniform and asserting herself on my behalf, joined me that day in a meeting with the emergency room nursing supervisor who was not accommodating at all. She told me, “You’re fired.” And, that was that. The union was in a shambles and I had not passed my probationary period.
So, I took the issue to the Board of Trustees in front of cameras at their next meeting. There was no redress regardless of the interests of those involved. I lost my job and went to working for a temporary agency filling in at nursing homes until Kathy graduated.
I was surprised but happily so when I applied for a job at the University’s Hermann Hospital. There was never a mention made of my transgressions at the Fort Worth County Hospital although I listed it as last employer when applying. I worked night shift and did my duties as expected until school began.
The University of Texas Medical School was then very new. I joined 51 other students in only the fourth class to enter. In some ways the program there was a bit of an experiment. The standard four-year curriculum was then being squeezed into three years. But, I don’t believe the students really noticed or were concerned with the change. Actually, most were probably happy to pass through in three instead of four years of training. Especially since almost all the graduates would go on to “specialize” which required three or more additional years. Interestingly, the program eventually returned to four years a few years down the road.
Those who chose the new class may have thought, “Let’s bring in a few military veterans. They will do the work and creditably, as they already have.” There were five vets who joined the Class of 1977. While we were a few years older than most, we had a bond to share from our military service. We were a cell within the student tissue of our class. There were also about as many female students in our midst. They had their own bond – as well as problems – to share.
The reader might wonder what kind of people go through the process of applying to medical school. Math and science courses make application feasible the system which is often the biggest challenge of becoming a physician. Sadly, there is little place for applicants with major interests in philosophy and artistry which used to be key elements of the “healing arts.” We have been led to believe that physicians are scientists, and so their training is overloaded with science requirements.
All 52 of us were relatively young, mostly in our early to mid twenties. We had two in their thirties, men who already had PhDs in medical sciences. We had youth in our favor. But in the larger scheme of things, we really had little life experience to make us ready for the people and challenges we would meet. Still, we were probably older and more exposed to the world than so many medical students of the past according to historical pictures. In previous centuries, it was quite common for physicians to graduate and supposedly capable of dealing with patients and disease as early as the tender age of twenty-one!
Although there may have been some rousing welcome for the Class of 77, I do not recollect it at all. Had there been I would wished that we might have heard words similar to those spoken to entering classes of an earlier generation at the Harvard Medical School. It has been said that the Dean, Charles Sidney Burwell, made it a habit to meet and speak with the incoming class on their first day. He gave a similar pep talk each year and always threw in a proviso about their medical education, “Half of what we teach you here will be outdated or simply shown to be untrue in twenty years. The problem is that we don’t know which half that is.”
Since our school was practically brand new, its facilities were leased or drawn for teaching purposes from one institution or another. They were spread around the Texas Medical Center and we sat for the equivalent of two academic years in cramped quarters on the 11th and 12th floor of Center Pavilion Hospital. I sometimes wonder how we managed to sit through what were often tedious and boring lectures during very long days. On most of them, the highlight was break time. There was no playground, but we had foosball to occupy some of us.
I can count on one hand the number of stimulating professors and classes we had in those first two years – and still have fingers left over. Only one instructor comes to mind at the moment. Dr. Guillermo Nottebohm. We considered him our Argentine firecracker. Nottebohm was a nephrologist (kidney specialist) who attempted to teach us Internal Medicine. He was dynamic, devoted to his work and specialty. He moved around, tried to engage the people in the seats, and told pertinent and sometimes provocative stories. While he didn’t have “new” information for us, he presented his classes with some vitality and excitement. And, he thought nephrology was terribly important and, like many of our professors, believed his field deserved more space in the medical curriculum than it was allotted.
I recall Nottebohm’s recurring pronouncement given out when students said they hadn’t gotten their reading or assignment done or couldn’t adequately respond to his queries to them. Given with his spicy Spanish accent, he pronounced, “My young man, you really have no excuse. Their is no requirement for medical students to get sleep. It has never been proven that a young, healthy medical student requires more than a few hours of rest. Study more, put more time into your books and less into your bed.” Dr. Nottebohm and a bare few others helped us survive those grueling hours in our tiny, stuffy classroom.
Dr. Richard Conklin was a lecturer (rather THE lecturer) in Virology. He taught the whole course. I remember, from the very first class, him bemoaning the grand importance of viruses in modern medicine. And, the sad state of affairs in which he was only given a paltry twenty hours to teach us the finer points of virology. Conklin claimed that the school at which he had previously taught gave over 100 hours to the teaching of his “vital” discipline. That said, “I will try to keep my lectures brief and get you out well before the end of the each class period!”
Dr. Conklin was memorable for his receding hairline, curly auburn pate, smoldering cigar, and blustery manner. He remains planted in my memory particularly because he offered the medical staff the most enjoyable Grand Rounds I ever attended. Conklin had another profession prior to medicine and joining the faculty of UTMSH. He had been a whale pathologist. Some time after the Virology course had run its course, Conklin gave a slide show of the Orcas. I remember that session being one of the few high points of classroom studies. Paradoxical as it was. Probably the best hour-long presentation in the whole of my medical school academics was given on whales.
I am reminded as well of a number of visits which Dr. Charles Berry made to speak to our class. His presence stirred the students in the seats because Berry had been Director of Medical Operations and Research at the Manned Spacecraft Center (Houston, Texas) during the Gemini and Apollo programs. He also had many other titles including Professor of our medical school. Berry had been deeply involved in medical preparations for early space voyages. He talked about risks of space flight as well as opportunities and benefits which America had accrued from manned space ventures. He also made attempts to suggest that the future of human medicine was bound to have successes similar to those of space medicine. Essentially, he was saying, “If we can conquer outer space, we can overcome illness.”
But, I have to say that human medicine and rocket science stand far apart. We used to say, “Medicine is not rocket science.” Students don’t need to be geniuses to get through training and pass off as regular physicians. Nor do any medical processes require the precision of a shuttle launch.
Still, I think sometimes that even “Rocket science isn’t rocket science.” The space program has months, years, and decades to prepare for anticipated needs and possible problems in launch, transit, orbit, and re-entry. Systems are redundant upon redundant. But, rockets and shuttles are likely never as complicated as human beings. Simply because they are machines and not living beings. We certainly have had space successes. However, Dr. Berry spoke to us long before the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters. There are times and seasons for success and failure in space exploration and in medical ventures. Technology has been in season for many decades now. While its time is not over, its sometimes imagined supremacy is surely beginning to wane in the public. New forces will and must take charge and bring balance to practically all disciplines in the modern world. When that will occur is beyond prediction.
Thinking back to the Texas Medical Center and Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center causes me to be reminded of another phenomenon of particular interest in the 70s and 80s. That is the acclaimed and sometimes worshipped television and later film series called Star Trek.
The Starship Enterprise cruised the known universe and took on all comers, like the Lone Ranger did in an earlier era. Instead of using a horse and six-shooter, the Enterprise had 23rd century technology so the crew could travel at time warp speed, go into battle with laser weapons, and translocate personnel on rays of light. I have to admit that I was never a Star Trek fan. But, I did see at least one Star Trek film and put it to the test of my critical eye.
Let the reader be advised that my friends used to have a difficult time when we went to movies together, especially when there were medical parts to the film. I couldn’t help myself. I would grumble out louder than a whisper, “Ah, it would never happen like that. Didn’t they have a medical consultant for this movie?” I would get nudged and asked to pipe down.
One of my especial upsets has been about movie blood. Many films botch bloody scenes. Why can’t they make fake blood look like real blood rather than thin paint or thick Koolaid? In the one Star Trek film I recall, The Undiscovered Country, a violent scene occurred involving the Klingons. Gorkon, one of their potentates, was spurting blood and dying in front of the Enterprise crew. The Klingons, though they looked quite human, had purple blood among other differences with the Enterprise crew. But, blood color wasn’t the main problem. The leader of the Klingons was bleeding to death. After a few ineffectual preliminaries with scanning devices, aging Dr. Bones McCoy jumped in and started beating on the bleeding Gorkon’s chest to revive the Klingon.
First things first. Stop the bleeding. Everybody knows that. Even grade schoolers. No amount of resuscitation efforts will overcome loss of blood. Even Klingon blood! But, there was another obvious and critical point. At least, it was to me. The Starship was spanning the galaxies three hundred years hence using the latest technologies, but space medicine was still using 20th century first aid. How lame! If they could manage to “Beam me up, Scottie,” the Enterprise crew certainly should have passed beyond the stage of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and closed cardiac massage.
Three hundred years from now, we ought to do better than that. But, maybe not. Consider how well we are doing now with all of our 21st century technology. Where are the medical marvels? Oh, there are a few. Very few. But, most of them don’t filter down to make much difference in the daily lives of the great majority of patients. And, the ones that do quite often create secondary problems which have long term consequences.
Part of the problem is simply that scientists and physicians still don’t understand human beings. “Human beings are not machines. Nor do they respond like machines.” Technologists act as if everything can be approached in “machine mode.”
Certainly, the human form has machine-like qualities and can do many things better than any robot. The body also emulates chemical factories. The human form makes and processes thousands, maybe millions of chemicals. Probably more than all the manufacturing plants in the whole world have ever produced.
The human frame is a veritable “garden of eden” of flora and fauna. Although they are invisible to the naked eye, trillions of microscopic plants and animals – bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. – live on the surface and within the human body.
That form is also like a miniature magical physics laboratory. It has fantastic electrical networks. The brain itself has more connections than all the world’s telephone systems and is capable of using millions of interconnections in any moment.
All aspects of nature can be found within the human being. And, many layers of human nature are yet to be adequately studied and tested and understood by medical science. The Cayce medical readings were and still are decades ahead of orthodox teachings.
In that sense, we have yet “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” The human race really won’t create true science and technology until we better understand the wonder of the human form. “Know thy self.”
Of the dozens of courses we took in medical school, only two tried to test or thinking abilities. They gave essay – bordering on subjective – tests. To my way of thinking, they were the best courses in the whole curriculum. It seemed that the Biochemistry and Reproductive Biology Departments didn’t just delegate people to fill instructor slots. They had teaching programs and general principles of operation which promoted thinking. Imagine that! Thinking was promoted in at least some courses of study in the medical curriculum.
The details of Biochemistry, often focusing at the molecular level, can be pretty remote from what seems to me to be real life. But, Reproductive Biology certainly has far-reaching and common implications. I remember one story told by Dr. Keith Smith who worked in the latter department and taught some hours before us medical students. His story has stayed with me over forty years. Maybe it still has some teaching and learning value.
Smith was a Fertility Specialist and had stories to tell that set him apart from most of our textbook oriented teachers including other members of his department. During one of his lectures, he told us the strange-but-true story of a case of Infertility.
It involved a couple who had been attempting to conceive a child over many months and had been unsuccessful. The pair were college graduates from the East. They had been married for nearly three years and were concerned that they were yet childless. Thorough historical information and examinations including laboratory studies were performed on both husband and wife. After expending much time and energy and money, no cause for infertility could be determined.
Eventually, Dr. Smith delved a little more deeply. After some considerable discussion with the couple, it became apparent that their marriage had never been fully consummated. It seems that the two were affectionate and physically intimate. But somehow, they had not learned or discovered the “anatomical” relationships required to complete sexual intercourse and initiate the process necessary – in most cases – for conception.
I also remember the Repro Department showing us a fairly explicit video. One in which live human beings demonstrated a variety of positions for intercourse. Maybe Dr. Smith and his cohorts wanted to be sure that none of his students ended up in the same situation as the couple noted above.
We did have from the very beginning of school hundreds of hours in Gross Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, Histology and the like. These courses were certainly more active than sitting in a classroom. But, they were devoted to studying and memorizing the many, many pieces of the dead human body. Over the course of the curriculum, we students spent vast amounts of time at first hand learning about dead bodies, tissues and parts. Would we had spent as much time touching and interacting with live, healthy beings.
But, medicine is about disease, not health. Sorry to say. Health to many, many physicians remains “the absence of disease.” In any case, we had no training in Health – young medical students still don't. I suspect that when the curriculum tries to change, students will rebel against it. “Health class? The profs are taking us back to high school days,” I’m sure many students will say. The closest med students get to Health is in Physiology class where the body is “broken” apart into systems. Physicians-to-be learn about normal function of body parts and systems. They can tell you about blood counts, arterial pressures, urine outputs, respiratory rates, and the like. Both normal and abnormal. But, Health for a whole being is not addressed. This is one of the Big Gaps in medicine, past and present.
Generally speaking, medical training and medical students are focused on the “meat and potatoes” medicine which equates to pathology and disease, blood and guts, cutting and curing, saving lives. Not “salad and vegetables,” like prevention and health oriented topics.
In defense of our instructors, I have to say that they were working in a difficult system in which to be effective and successful. I have never heard of a medical school professor being offered a job because he was a good teacher. Such positions are given out as in many times, places, and institutions for research credentials, for developing a new drug or device, for knowing somebody on the staff, for bringing money to the school. But for teaching abilities?
The instructors, the vast majority being men, had paid their dues and become specialized in one field or another. Even Family Practice called itself a specialty in order to find its way into medical academia. One would think that academia would be the obvious place for teaching and learning. But, humans tend to make things more complicated than we dare wish them to be.
A common adage I heard on the way up the medical ladder went something like, “Them that can do, do. Them that can’t do, teach.” Well, it generally amounted to a lot of doers being forced to teach to hold a professorship and follow their real interests. Teaching before a blackboard in front of naive medical students surely was not high on the list of things most M.D.s and PhDs wanted to do. There were some exceptions.
From my standpoint and probably that of others who look closely, the medical curriculum has not changed with the times and most certainly drawing on alternatives which abounded then and now. The programs still are basically the nuts and bolts of previous generations and even centuries – anatomy and physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and study of the body systems largely represented in the specialties of internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, and obstetrics-gynecology. Psychiatry is thrown in, but looked down upon by the generally body-oriented approach of modern teaching. Even psychiatry tries to make the mind synonymous with the brain. Much of that discipline also endeavors to see the brain as a chemical factory which can be manipulated with one drug or another.
A typical medical curriculum of the present day is outlined below. This program is basically the same as it was more than a generation ago at UTMSH except for a few name changes and jiggling in schedule.
First Year: Anatomy, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Embryology, Genetics, Human Behavior, Immunology, Neuroscience, Physiology
Second Year: Clinical Medicine, Microbiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Pre-Clinical Electives
Third Year: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics,
Fourth Year: Acute Care, Ambulatory Care, Medicine Sub-internship, Electives
You might also wonder what is wrong with the listing above? What did and does the medical curriculum leave out? Is there anything missing in the curriculum for a physician-to-be who deals not just with the body but with whole human beings?
• Spirit and spirituality.
• Social issues.
• The teeth and mouth.
• Life styles and occupational influences.
• Doctor-patient relationships.
• The business of medicine.
• The costs of medical care.
• The history of medicine.
• The natural history of disease.
• The consequences of treatment.
• Emotions of a patient going to the doctor.
• The experience of pain.
• The phenomenon of sleep.
• Nature and planet Earth.
• Alternative systems of healing.
• The specter of death.
While we had a few glimpses of some of these topics from an occasional lecturer, the human being as patient was largely seen as either a chemical factory, a biological specimen, or a mechanical system. Or a combination thereof. A mental-emotional overlay was given credence but most often explained, à la evolutionary teaching, as an effect of bodily interactions.
Fortunately, this writer found a “Night School” to attend. It was a self-organized program offered through the medical readings of Edgar Cayce.
I was already a committed student of the Readings by the time we got to the Texas Medical Center. But, I was not satisfied with the biographies and the Black Book, as fascinating as they were. So, I jumped into the Circulating Files. Many evenings when Day School permitted, I would hunker down with a file on one illness or another. I developed a 3X5 card file and took notes reading by reading. I tried to draw out the essential points in the record as Cayce worked with each person meeting his/her problem. While the readings were categorized by disease or problem, they opened large worlds for their consideration and the potential to treated people as individuals with problems and opportunities to engage them.
Sadly, medicine too often does it the other way around: focusing much more on the illness rather than the person. However obtuse that approach may be, it has long been and continues to be the pattern into which students and physicians groove. Often without realizing. We follow the temperament and teaching of the time if for no other reason than that alternatives are not easy to find and require large expenditures of energy to elucidate. We are all trained to seek ready answers and quick cures.
So, we have body and disease-centered medical sciences instead of human and health-centered healing arts. This despite teachings spanning vast eras by Great Physicians from Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, to William Osler, the Father of American Medicine. The latter is famously quoted as saying, “It is much more important to know what kind of patient has a disease, than what sort of disease a patient has.” Unfortunately, systems and curricula especially in the modern era have lost tract of such simple but profound reasoning.
Thanks to the Cayce Readings, I became permeated with real, honest-to-goodness holistic thinking. “The Spirit is the life, the mind is the builder, and the physical is the result.” Would that modern people and medicine took up that one teaching which came through Mr. Cayce. The world would turn on its heel and all manner of problems, medical and otherwise, would be approached much more fundamentally and helpfully.
Fortunate for me living in Houston provided other opportunities for learning apart from standard medical and Cayce night classes. The other long-established medical school occasionally had a speaker with credentials in the alternative community. Denis Burkitt, the English surgeon who helped bring fiber back into the western diet, once spoke at Baylor College of Medicine and received a cordial response. I participated in a Muktananda meditation intensive and visited a Buddhist chanting group. Early on, I began visiting the Texas Chiropractic College in Pasadena. And, I took classes at the Esoteric Philosophy Center of William David. More about those experiences later.
Recent photo of the Unity Pyramid
Kathy was more than leery about some of these interests, but she did join me at the Golden Pyramid Church – Unity of Houston – pioneered by John Rankin. [Interestingly, I discovered years after we visited Rankin’s church that the pastor believed himself to be the reincarnation of Joseph Smith, the patriarch of Mormonism. Rankin wrote that the construction of the Golden Pyramid eventuated as the result of group karma going back to ancient Egyptian days.]
Smith and Rankin
Kathy also attended some Search For God group meetings with me. The latter, based on the Cayce readings, were great in principle. But in my several experiences, the groups seemed to have trouble getting out of the starting gate. That first chapter on Cooperation was a tough one to accomplish in the seeming best of circumstances. The readings repeatedly commented on the exceeding importance of Cooperation in the endeavors even in which Cayce was central figure. Often the working groups met failure in the efforts for simple, yet often so difficult foundation of Cooperation.
I met a different problem in my first year, as we were released for a few hours each week for a medical experience at the side of a Houston practitioner. Every student was given the opportunity to get his/her feet wet and also get out of the classroom while looking over the shoulder of a primary care physician during that first year. I wonder what kind of karma caused me to get matched with Gayland Steubing, M.D., whose office was on the far north side of the city.
I have to confess that I probably prejudiced myself against the physician early on. I immediately was distracted by his appearance. Steubing was a waddling, bulging, red-haired man in his 40s. He was very large – well over 250 pounds – even though he had recently had stomach stapling surgery and lost much weight, according to one of his staff.
That didn’t sit well with me, as I have long thought that physicians and other medical
professionals should at least try to set examples for their patients and clients. But, that made it tough for Dr. Steubing to impress me positively. He had one strike against him from the first meeting. Then, I soon noticed a pattern in the doctor’s work. He seemed to prescribe gamma globulin quite liberally. You name the problem, a gamma globulin shot would help. He was ordering lots of lab tests. Both surely increased his income. Strike 2.
One particular consult eventuated with a young man with some non-specific complaints. Dr. Steubing did the usual “brief history and cursory exam” and ordered a number of tests. Some moments later, the nurse came into the doctor’s office where I sat in a corner biding my time.
She remarked, “The new patient is concerned about the costs of the tests you have ordered for him. He is paying out of pocket and has limited funds.”
Doctor Steubing moved away from the Wall Street Journal on his desk and me. He walked over with the nurse towards the door and whispered to her, “Just negotiate with him.” Strike 3. That was enough for me. It seemed clear that Steubing was more of a businessman than a medical professional. It wasn’t long before I made an appointment to speak with the associate dean of the medical school and told him of my experiences at Dr. Steubing’s office, my impressions and discomfort with his practice. He listened carefully and sent me on.
Within a week I received a note from the Office of the Dean telling me, “You need not continue your Primary Care Practicum. You will be given credit, however, for completing it.” There may have been extra words noting my previous medical experiences as sufficing to fulfill practicum needs. The note said nothing about the doctor’s practice. But, it was not the school’s place to tell Dr. Steubing how to practice. He was licensed and certified to do his “business” as he wished. UTMSH may well not have sent him any more preceptees, but it certainly would not have bothered him about “negotiating” on blood tests.
About the same time, all was not well at the McNary residence in the Smith Square Apartments. Even though at that period in marriage, our relationship was fairly stable and comfortable. We were both occupied much of the day with school and work. Problems, however, arose as Kathy, trying to do things perfectly, went to work early and left late. She was nursing in a large city, in the middle of the great Texas Medical Center and in Dr. Michael Debakey’s Methodist Hospital. Albeit she was assigned to the Medical Intensive Care Unit and not the Surgical one where Debakey held his patients.
Along the way maybe even before we met, Kathy had begun to see psychologists and psychiatrists for her emotional problems and inadequacies long past. On arriving at Houston, she switched from one of the former to one of the latter and began to take medication frequently changing from one to the other. “Try this. Try that.”
Her psychiatrist diagnosed “endogenous depression.” Kathy’s emotional turmoil, mood swings, and phobias as well as low self-esteem created numerous obstacles. At one point she was diagnosed as manic-depressive and prescribed lithium carbonate which she took for some time.
Still, she was not totally repressed. On the spur of the moment, Kathy had the nerve to walk up to a celebrity in a crowded restaurant to beg for an autograph. On the other hand, she was afraid to ask the apartment house neighbor to loan her a cup of sugar. The “public” Kathy was bright, smiling, and gregarious, while the “private” Kathy was bogged down in fears and guilts and self-condemnation.
Kathy thought she was doing all right with her psychiatrist and medication. But, the pressure grew with the months of hard work. Instead of adapting to the unit and her job, Kathy became more anxious and compulsive. She went to work earlier and stayed later. She limited her breaks and lunch period so she could keep up. K. constantly worried about her patients and the caliber of her work.
Then, thing boiled up when her mother visited us during our first Houston spring. I came home in the late afternoon during her stay to find that Kathy had experienced a seizure while the two of them were waiting for lunch to be served at a restaurant. They didn’t think to bother me as they went off or were carried to one of the many emergency rooms nearby. Without probing Kathy’s psychiatric and medication history, the ER physician proceeded to do the current typical protocol of “skull series [xrays], EEG, and brain scan” and call in a neurologist. All results were “within normal limits,” as they were sure to be. Before one knew it, she was sent on her away with a prescription for Dilantin [anticonvulsant] and instruction to make an appointment at the neurologist’s office “for follow-up.”
I fumed when I got the details of the day. My anger was not directed at Kathy or her mother. They just got caught up in at the medical system and the neurologist who supposedly “cared” for my wife. “Doctor” Hamilton had taken the sketchiest of histories from mother and daughter. He did not gather that K. was a stressed, compulsive intensive care nurse. He did not discover that she was under psychiatric care and taking an antidepressant and a tranquilizer. He had no idea that prior to Kathy’s seizure, she had not eaten for many hours. Kathy had the persistent sense that she was overweight and needed to watch her intake, at one point joining Weight Watchers. All the while, she probably never weighed more than a hundred pounds.
I made the decision that it was premature for Kathy to start taking Dilantin. After waiting a few days, I spoke to Hamilton by phone and filled him in on some of the parts of K’s medical history which he had missed. He accepted our decision on the medication, although not very happily. But, he stuck to the necessity for his “diagnostic workup” and the need to “rule out serious pathology.” Kathy cancelled her appointment with the neurologist.
Kathy was able to get a more “expert” opinion by consulting her psychiatrist before long. That gentleman surmised that Kathy had gotten herself into a hypoglycemic state which, in conjunction with her medication, precipitated the seizure.
All of the above amounted to a “heck of a note,” as my father would have said. It disturbed Kathy’s time with her mother. And it upset the young medical student who thought he should have been involved with his wife’s medical encounter.
Taking charge, better late than never, I told Kathy to throw the pills away. She already was taking enough. There was nothing I could do about the level of intensity under which she worked. She had to come to the conclusion that she was out of her league at the Methodist Hospital Medical Intensive Care Unit. Thence, I suggested that we consult the Cayce readings. The whole idea was a bit foreign to her, but she wasn’t keen on medication either considering all the circumstances.
After she voluntarily gave up her job, Kathy took a plane to Phoenix and spent a few days at the ARE Clinic with Alan Abromovitz as her physician. She enjoyed the stay and came back in good spirits with a regime to follow including modest dietary changes, castor oil packs, massages, chiropractic, and wet cell battery. I got elected to do the duty of massage therapist and to apply the wet cell and castor oil packs as directed. Kathy soon took responsibility for the latter. Looking back, I have to say that while the physical approach may have been warranted and somewhat helpful for Kathy, her real needs were left untouched by her physicians and counselors, by the Cayce remedies, and particularly by me.
CONFESSION§ I, the naive potential physician-healer, was attracted to and married a woman who I perceived needed HELP. I thought I could help Kathy. I was very wrong. Kathy’s problems, as yours and mine, were multi-dimensional and sometimes beyond a REAL healer’s abilities to set in order. It was certainly far beyond the capacity of such a one as myself – a fledgling medical student, a Cayce proselyte, an optimistic experimenter – one who should have been a husband or friend rather than a therapist.
For the longest time, almost ten years, I was one of Kathy’s major problems. I knew not how to be a reassuring husband, a supportive confidant, or a sympathetic friend. I remember calling Kathy by pet names which were neither endearing nor uplifting. We also had three occasions of physical altercation. Kathy got the worst in two of them.
Kathy and I never learned to communicate in the same language. I could not (and generally did not want to) penetrate the fogs and clouds of emotions which so often surrounded her. Kathy could not relate to the strong-mindedness which I often displayed around her. Nor could she compete intellectually with the bright young medical student, although she tried in a number of ways. K. experienced life chiefly through feelings – deeply, dramatically, and often dysfunctionally. My life was lived mainly through ideas. §
Regardless of the turn of events, K. never gave up her medications although they were changed from time to time by her psychiatrist. Before long she took the hints from the hospital stress and her seizure to take to a part-time paperwork job with one of the professors in the medical center. But she wasn’t good enough in that situation, either. Or so it seemed to her. Kathy thought her co-workers talked about her. I knew her co-workers fairly well and never heard any complaints from them. They actually enjoyed her company and appreciated her help.
Fortunately, Kathy soon discovered the Jung Institute of Houston and was enthralled for a time. She bought all of Jung’s Collected Works and filled one of the shelves of an antique bookcase she found. But, she read little in the imposing volumes. Kathy did, however, do some of the seemingly essential work of a Jungian. She filled pages and pages of notebooks with her dreams. She also toyed with the idea of becoming a Jungian analyst.
In retrospect, it seems that Kathy was a Real Dreamer. There again, she had real resources: the Institute and her dreams. But, she didn’t get far with interpreting her dreams. It almost seems like there are dreamers and interpreters. Putting the two together is often hard to accomplish. The dreams were like a foreign world somewhat like Cayce was to her. Even though we all walk the same planet, we do live much more than we might want to think in our own separate worlds. No wonder it is hard for people to come together.
One of the positive things about her relations with the Jungians and the Institute was that it was her own discovery. Something she should call her own. By that time in our marriage, the potential for child-bearing and raising had passed. Kathy had undergone an abortion before I met. She said that the pregnancy was the result of her first episode of intercourse when she went to college in Tennessee. When we were first married, she tried birth control pills. But, her moods and emotions were all over the place. So, we turned to condoms. They failed and we went off to New Mexico for another abortion. When we returned, I underwent a vasectomy. So that problem was solved.
“But, why not have children?” one might suggest, “That might have done the two of you and the marriage some good.” I think not. It may well have added to problems of which Kathy seemed to carry more than her fair share. But, we will never know.
I might add that, rightly or wrongly, I have for the whole of this lifetime believed that I came here to do “some work.” The thought or sense following was that if I became a parent I would not do justice to both. Actually, I felt on many occasions that I was already a parent to Kathy and didn’t do a very good job of it.
Kathy and I persisted with the Cayce therapies for some months, but we inevitably trailed off as life and school passed by. Eventually, Kathy prepared for our move from medical school to an internship in the Army. She wanted to go into psychology or counseling and did so once we made our next station. In any case, we had practical experience with the Cayce methods. And, whether related or not, Kathy never had another seizure while we were together.
I might also tell that I was influenced to work with the Cayce medical readings as much for myself as for others. I drew on them repeatedly for my own health and welfare. First off, I began what has become a persistent practice of meditation for well over forty years now. The practice has changed a number of times, but I began the practice of meditation through Cayce’s A Search for God.
I focused on my diet which was already paled by general lack of interest in meats. When I was young, my family had relished steaks and roasts. I forced myself to join in with a few exceptions. So, I readily took to Cayce’s common suggestions to eat more like a cow or a rabbit. I have often wished to live on a tropical isle to have fruit in season year round. Today, I am more of a fruitarian than a vegetarian.
I have always been a milk drinker and like most every dairy product. Still at one point, I felt sorry for cows and gave up dairy for a time. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that milk cows have their own karma which may be better than lots of other critters and even humans. So, I persist keeping some of them busy.
I thought my hair was thinning at one period in my early Cayce years. So, I tried his method doing overnight crude oil treatments. You might visualize rubbing crude oil into the scalp and sleeping with a greasy head to be a “messy” and involved procedure. Like a number of Cayce suggestions, a large part of the value of the crude oil treatment may have been produced by all the energy expended in its research, development, and production. It did indeed create a MESS. Towels were sacrificed for the procedure and bedding had to be specially protected during the experiment.
I persisted with them for some time. Today, I have lots of hair and curls: “A full head of hair.” My barber often comments on my “thick hair” and elderly ladies rave about it and wish they could “borrow some of those locks of yours.” The success of the venture is really hard to evaluate. Was my hair really thinning? Even if the crude oil scalp treatment was for naught, it was quite an experiment and would have made a great home video!
I experimented with many other Cayce recommendations including head and neck exercises, and colored lights for my myopia (near-sightedness). I never achieved much success on that one. I played with potato poultices and herbal mixtures, the violet ray machine and the radioactive appliance, Glyco-Thymoline and Atomidine. I used the castor packs a number of times over the years about which much will follow.
I vividly remember slogging through first year Gross Anatomy with a drippy nose. I recall the pervasive fumes of formaldehyde which emanated from the “pickling fluid” used to preserve the cadavers we dissected. The vibration if not the aroma percolated everywhere. It seemed to invade my whole being. It “gave” me headaches and a wet, runny nose. I had tried the conventional method using antihistamines and decongestants to deal with a similar problem in college. Those got me nowhere. So, I dug into the Cayce materials and found an inhalant suggested as useful for such a condition.
The concoction was composed of a few drops of aromatic oils, like pine, eucalyptus, and tolu, in a grain alcohol base. I visited an old-time pharmacy and gathered together as many of the ingredients as were available there. I went to a liquor store to purchase Everclear™ (180 proof grain alcohol). For a few moments, I played the role of apothecary using an eyedropper to measure out the proper amounts of oils for the solution. Then, I simply agitated the bottle and sniffed the fumes. The old apothecaries like modern herbalists must have reveled in their works gathering herbs and oils, alcohols and waters and making tinctures infusions, lotions and potions.
I seemed to have real success with that remedy. It took some effort to put it together, but it was my own “concoction” – based on a Cayce recipe. It was novel and unique. I inhaled the fumes several times a day. I snorted them up high into my sinuses, then the yellow phlegm liquefied and poured out through my nose in a relatively short time, and I was back in action. I resorted to the aromatic inhalant on a few other occasions of colds or flu.
At this point in time, I wonder about the source of my discomforts in Anatomy class. How much of them was caused by some conscious and unconscious discomforts with the whole process of tearing up human corpses. One of my present day thinkings is that working on dead bodies leaves so much unanswered. A dead body is a quite remote resemblance to a living one. Many might object, but I think the anatomy classes accomplished little. They might have found better and more direct value for surgeons in training who were ready to cut into living forms. Very few of our class would eventually go into surgery and what they learned years past in the first moments of Gross Anatomy would then be largely forgotten.
All good and not-so-good things come to an end. Half way through the program, we got liberated from the butt-numbing classroom and began our “third-year” rotations. We then would spend practically all our time on one ward/service or another – four weeks at a stint.
But before I took my place with the other students on the firing line, I made an appointment to speak with the dean of the medical school, Dr. Robert Tuttle. Dean Tuttle was a good man and kindly heard me out when I told him that, “I don’t quite believe a lot of what they are teaching us in the academic end of school. I am having trouble swallowing all of it.” Still, I didn’t have quite the gumption to say I didn’t believe in the prevailing germ theory because I knew Tuttle had been professor of immunology and microbiology at Bowman-Gray School of Medicine in North Carolina prior to becoming Dean at UTMSH.
Tuttle listened carefully without taking the slightest offense. Then, he talked to the tune of, “Our job is to teach medicine as we now understand it. It’s certainly far from perfect and is subject to change. Your job is to learn what we teach you. When you graduate and are on your own you will have some leeway on how you practice according to your own beliefs and understandings. Just go out and do what is expected of you and do it well. Your own time and opportunity will come soon enough.”
By the time I took to the wards, I felt pretty sure that there was a whole lot more than fifty percent [according to Burwell] of the teaching and dogma which was wrong. Being so, many medical practices often amounted to waste at best and detriment to patients at the worst. My ideas about germs were just some of the stumbling blocks along the way. I was an exceptional case in med school. My compatriots ate the traditional medical meal, chewed on it just a bit, and relished the flavor.
I attribute my questioning eye and skeptical opinion to a number of things. First, my several years working in varied venues around hospitals and army aid stations as well as studying nursing and medical technology. Second, my practice of reading outside the normal textbooks and even investigating medical alternatives, like chiropractic and osteopathy. Third, my “Night School” experiences with the Cayce Readings which suggested that all of us should be tended as whole beings, not just diseases or body parts. [To those who might understand, I have told that I learned more studying Cayce than going to medical school.] Fourth, my own inner sense as well as the suggestions of others that I had been physician/healer in a number of previous lifetimes. Finally, like Edgar Cayce, I have Uranus in my astrological first house and close to the ascendant which suggests being a rather unique creature. That creature thinks and sees things much differently and acts accordingly. We are all different, but some are more so than others.
Dean Tuttle gave me good advice. He might have done even better to say, “Young man, be sure you keep your mouth shut on the wards.” I had to learn the hard way and had a number of close calls during the practical part of medical school training.
Like the rest of my fellows, I joined a ward team which usually consisted of an attending physician who was the titular head of the group and appeared at his/her own discretion. Some frequently, others on occasion. Generally, s/he handed responsibilities over to a resident physician and an intern. Medical students pulled up the rear and took directions and orders from everyone. We did physical exams and procedures, chased test results, made regular rounds checking on patients, attended our mentors’ needs and whims, acted as go-betweens, and did whatever other gopher work was delegated to us.
One of the first things medical students note on hospital rounds is the way staff physicians and particularly chief residents question their underlings. It is often called “pimping the med students.” It seems that a student can be allowed to have part of an answer, but never a complete one. The resident may, for example, ask a student in group formation, “What are the major causes of jaundice?” The student could literally recite a number of different responses which cover fully 99% of the known causes of human jaundice. Yet, the resident needs to stay on top. He will either dispute one of the student’s answers or dredge up another from the great wellspring of his experience. Too often, the job of the chief resident is to “keep the novices in line.”
The student has to parrot information, maintain a student reserve, and follow orders, but not think or act creatively. There is little room in orthodox medicine for debating fine points – intellectual or emotional, ethical or esthetic, humanistic or spiritual. That became obvious on my very first hospital rotation. Fortunately or unfortunately – karmically would probably be more accurate – there were other things to learn during my first rotation on the Cancer Ward at the Hermann (University) Hospital. The ward was a sad and depressing place for patients and workers alike. The prognosis for most patients was much less than hopeful.
The medical team included an authoritative medical resident, Dr. Book, an intern who intended to become an orthopedic surgeon, and two students. The Chief Resident was tightly wound and equally attuned to the medical dogma. He obviously did not like some of my pointed questions, especially when I showed myself unconvinced as to the value of some of the treatments – antibiotics and steroids, steroids and antibiotics – which we doled out so frequently and freely. On one occasion, I remember him calling me a “therapeutic nihilist.” Suggesting that I wasn’t enthusiastic about any medical methods. He wasn’t too far from the truth.
Book also took it quite personally when patients died, on one occasion painfully and blatantly blaming the nurses. Death in the medical system is too often seen as a failure. And with failure, someone needs to take the blame. But, really! People die, especially cancer patients on cancer wards.
Even without Dr. Book, oncology was a rough place to start. I remember my first patients: Peter Schmidt and Eula Rogers. Peter had a malignant brain tumor and Eula was diagnosed with lymphoma. Both died during my few short weeks on the service. I recall the latter days of Mrs. Rogers, in particular. Within a few days of her hospital admission, Mrs. R. was placed on heavy – maybe too heavy – doses of chemotherapy. Her blood counts rapidly soured. She developed oral thrush, could not eat, and slipped away quickly. Mrs. R. died early one morning to the consternation of the medical resident. Apparently not wanting to accept such a rapid demise of one of his patients, Dr. Book tried to find someone to blame. He claimed that the night nurse had suctioned Mrs. R. too vigorously and had precipitated her arrest. I don’t think anyone bought the excuse. Some of us surmised that the resident felt guilty for over-medicating Mrs. Rogers and letting complications of treatment overtake her disease and her life.
Dr. Book was bright and medically shrewd. He was dedicated to the orthodox model and didn’t take well to my questions about some of the interventions made in the lives of the patients on the cancer ward. Whenever a patient improved, it was because of a medication or therapy. When another worsened or died, it was due to an underling’s error, a failure in the protocol, or “just too little, too late.”
From my inferior standpoint, one cause of a number of patient problems and even deaths may have been “Too much, too soon.” I suppose even at that time in my medical career, I had a commitment to the Hippocratic injunction: “First, do no harm.” It seemed that many medical/surgical interventions performed on our cancer patients were just “adding insult to injury.” I really felt for the suffering patients on the ward and imagined that much of their pain and discomfort, anxiety and trauma were unnecessarily produced by hospital “care.”
I remember going on rounds to the other cancer ward and seeing a pretty young woman who was being treated for an acute leukemia. (I viewed her from the midst of our medical entourage on several occasions, but I never got to meet her, talk with her, or find out what was important in her life. I wonder if any of the doctors or students ever did.) Mary was bombarded with chemotherapy and taken through the latest protocol in hopes of reaching a remission. Each time I saw her, she changed. In a few short days, she metamorphosed before my very eyes. First, Mary lost her hair and had to wear a cap or scarf. On occasion, I stared at her head naked except for a wisp or two of fine, babylike hair. I was reminded of photos of the emaciated, baldheaded victims of the Nazi concentration camps.
Mary began to bloat. Her bright and attractive face became aged and pained and round like a balloon. Her skin turned a mottled, pale yellow – a little sun might have done her and many such patients some real good. Mary’s platelet count took a nosedive and she developed ecchymoses (oozing of blood under the skin). She required frequent blood and platelet transfusions. But, her IV’s backed up and had to be restarted repeatedly, making her arms and feet all the more marred and blotched. At one point, she went through a nervous, agitated state which bordered on a psychotic breakdown.
Despite Mary’s tenuous physical and emotional state, there was no relenting on the aggressive treatment of her leukemia. The battle had to be waged. Then, a weekend passed. When we returned for Monday rounds, Mary’s room was empty and she was gone. Not a word was said on rounds. I got the news of her death from the nursing staff. Another unspeakable loss to the nemeses – Cancer and Death.
When the treatment is worse than the disease, as is often the case with cancer, I was and am still quite skeptical. I showed little appreciation for the orthodox approach of “poison, burn, and cut” – chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery – used on cancer patients. Methods in oncology, then and now, are reminiscent of military combat! I wonder what kind of karma patients and doctors and the society deal with in this thing called cancer.
Even with my jaded opinions, I felt on finishing that rotation I had done the work assigned and followed the program. But, I learned otherwise on receiving an “invitation” to meet with Dr. Walter Kirkendall, the Chief of Internal Medicine for the Hermann Hospital and the whole medical school. I was really oblivious as to what prompted the summons, but quickly found out once I stopped into his office.
Kirkendall was an aging internist, a big guy in a long white coat with professorial glasses sliding down over his nose. He was a looming authority figure and I was just a peon. Still, he was neither welcoming nor unkind. Just pretty matter of fact. He didn’t ask me to sit down. He just got to the point. “Your evaluation for your first rotation on Medicine was not very good. It concludes, ‘Student lacks common sense and enthusiasm.’ Let’s see if you can do better in this next round. I don’t want to hear about a repeat performance.”
Short and sweet. Well, not really sweet. Not harsh either. Dr. Kirkendall added something to the effect that the next evaluation would have to show improvement – or else. Nonetheless, MY basic problem was “lack of common sense and enthusiasm.” I admit that I most surely must have frowned inwardly as well as questioned more than was “right for a newby.” I didn’t have the common sense to keep my mouth shut when I couldn’t be clearly enthusiastic about standard methods.
I tried consciously to button my lip more during the following Internal Medicine rotation. That second round went much better – or, again, so I thought – at St. Joseph’s Hospital which was located in downtown Houston away from the Texas Medical Center. Jim Peterson, the Head Resident, was decidedly laid back. He wasn’t out to shine, just get the job done, take care of people, and move along the medical corridor. The number two man was an OB-GYN intern who tried to lighten the load (with laughter) rather than add to it. Further, we were working on a general medical ward. Death was not a constant daily threat as it had been at the Hermann cancer ward.
While at St. Joseph’s, our team got an unexpected treat. It was another one of those rare glimpses of what medicine can be and was shared through the kind presence of Dr. Cheves Smythe. He spoke some of the most valuable things I ever heard during my medical student tenure. Would that others might have heard his words. If they did, I hope they remembered them.
This was the only time I ever saw or heard Dr. Smythe in action. I was very impressed (unusual for me) and wished he had made rounds regularly. Smythe seemed to be a medical wiz, down to earth and artful – all at the same time. He had been the medical school’s first Dean, later filled Dr. Kirkendall’s position for a time, and even later returned to fill in again as Dean long after I parted the scene.
Smythe made two comments in the midst of our informal session that I will never forget. These had been prefaced with some friendly introductions and conversation and stories about medical practice. In the midst of his brief lesson, the slim Boston-accented and bow-tied Smythe said, “More than ninety percent of useful medical information should come from the physical examination and history you do on your patients.” Well, I agreed. But even then, medical testing certainly seemed to take up a lot more than 10 percent of our time and the patients’ money.
Years later, I discovered that that practice was hardly new, dating even from the 1940s. That was when Tinsley Harrison, the famed editor of Harrison’s Textbook of Internal Medicine, made a crisp comment worthy of attention in any decade. Harrison was disturbed even then about “the present-day tendency towards a five-minute history followed by a five-day barrage of special tests in the hope that the diagnostic rabbit may suddenly emerge from the laboratory hat.”
Dr. Smythe seemed to follow Harrison’s lead as he went on to announce that, “You should only order a lab test or Xray when you know what the result will be. And then, if you know what the result will be, you quite probably don’t have to order the test.”
“Before you order a laboratory test or xray, you should consider your real need for ordering it and its potential diagnostic value. Through your past experience, careful history taking, and competent examination, you should pretty much be able to predict the result of that test. And, if you already know what the result of any diagnostic procedure will be, you might well dispense with the test and decide not to put the patient through the expense, discomfort, and ill effects of it. You should always ask yourself, ‘Will the result of the test you order change your treatment or in any way lead to the enhancement of the patient's health?’”
Those words and suggestions were spoken by either a consummate diagnostician, an astute communicator, or just a man much “in touch” with his patients. Unfortunately, I believe that there are relatively few medical men like him today, in terms of acumen, sensitivity, and philosophy. Our medical system makes it difficult to marry the values of the competent and caring “country doctor” with those of the talented technical practitioner. Almost the whole of modern medicine militates against a “real common sense” and “hands-on” approach to health issues. Fortunately, everything, even medicine, is subject to change.
I should not forget that there was one testy moment during Dr. Smythe’s rounds which involved the head resident for the other team on the St. Joseph’s Internal Medicine Service. It was Dr. David Booth who had recently resuscitated a patient. Code Blue had been called. Booth came to the rescue. Brought the patient back to life. Maybe raised him from the dead! Nah, probably not.
The incident came up on rounds and Booth got his just due. While he gloated a bit, rounds with Dr. Smythe moved on to discuss the importance of technical skill versus sympathetic care. While I had never run a code or “retrieved” a life until that time, I had to speak up for being human and compassionate with our patients. “Technical skills only go so far. Quality of life is important to every one.”
Booth and others trumped what little I dared to say, “You gotta keep ‘em alive. You can give them all the sympathy you want. But, if your patient dies, what good have you done?” My experience was limited then and would never be as great in that area of medicine. So, I have to grant Dr. Booth his point or, at least, some of it.
As far as I can remember that was the only time at St. Joseph’s that I opened my mouth in a less than common sense and enthusiastic manner from a standard medical practice point of view. But even that was debatable, although I don’t remember any in our group speaking to my side of the question.
Other than that moment facing Dr. Booth, I only remember one tense exchange during the whole rotation. That occurred as I had initiated a conversation with my fellow student about treating gallstones with castor oil packs. Chief Resident Peterson appeared unexpectedly and overheard bits of the conversation. Within a few moments, he asked the two of us to come to the conference room to “have a chat.” I was immediately suspicious and fearful. I thought, “Oh, Oh! My goose is cooked!”
The three of us had just enough time to sit down, when Peterson was called away. He didn’t return and the meeting was never reconvened. We proceeded on to our next rotations. I had done my work, followed the protocols, and made no demonstrable waves regarding patient care while at St. Joseph’s. So, I was not entirely surprised while happy relieved at the same time that there was no further word from Dr. Kirkendall. We moved to the next department in the rotation schedule.
However some weeks later, my medical student partner at St. Joseph’s let me know, “The word is that they lost the evaluations Peterson wrote for us!” Maybe that was for the good. I will never know.
My retort to Drs. Kirkendall and Book at this point in life might be something to the effect that: “I believe that common sense and enthusiasm are essential to a well-rounded life as well as for health and healing. Despite the seeming opposition of the terms, the two might fit nicely on a crest designed for a true physician and healer. One in the mold of Dr. Smythe I should think.”
I have to stop here because I can’t help but think that we humans are prone to project our
shortcomings on others. I was accused of lacking common sense and enthusiasm. I have since
admitted the truth of the accusation. I wonder how much of medicine and its practitioners can stand up to that same accusation.
Other rotations followed with much less intensity in Pediatrics, Obstetrics, and Psychiatry. Here follow a few notes on Memories of Pediatrics (or Internal Medicine for children):
Nursery – Newborns, fresh from the womb and from God – no wrinkles and no worries. Soft, warm, precious infants – delightful to watch and to touch.
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – Unnerving clangs and beeps and blips from innumerable electronic devices. Tiny, tiny premature infants connected to IVs, monitors, and life support systems.
Pediatric Ward – Needles inserted into tiny veins and arteries. Needles and tubing taped and draped on little heads. Needles missing their targets again and again. “Important” tests cancelled for lack of blood specimens. Crying, hurting, and also – thank goodness – smiling children. Anxious parents and relieved parents – and bereaved parents.
Pediatric Clinic – Little people and little doctors. Scabetic children. Children with croup and asthma. Children with coughs. Children with ear infections. Children with ear infections. More children with so-called ear infections! Endless examinations of ears, noses, and throats. Equally endless prescriptions for Ampicillin – stinky sweet and looking like big people’s Pepto-Bismol.
Memories of Obstetrics (institutionalized birthing) and Gynecology:
Generalities – Hollywood staff physicians and bumbling residents. Jack Barris and The Gong Show at noontime breaks.
Obstetrics – Fears of dropping the first wet, slippery infant I would deliver. Smiles and joy at seeing a soul enter a new body and new world while taking it first breaths and screams. Happy feelings on watching men support their mates through labor and delivery.
Obstetrical Surgery – The technical wizardry of an obstetrician with a sharp scalpel and a mission to deliver a baby in near record time by Caesarean Section. But, the wonder of the necessity and frequency of such procedures.
Gynecology – Apprehensions on doing my first – and subsequent – pelvic examinations. How does a physician – a man or a woman – ever become comfortable putting two fingers in a strange woman’s vagina – and another into her rectum?
Memories of Psychiatry (medicine for the head):
The Psychiatric Ward – Center Pavilion Hospital again! A ward of the living dead or, at best, living sleepwalkers. A mass of darkened and disturbed minds. Pills for psychoses, pills to counteract side-effects, pills to counteract counteractions. Apparently bright physicians theorizing and rationalizing to come up with supposedly reasonable therapy for the unreasonable behavior of irrational beings.
The Psychiatric Clinic – Bearded and guarded psychiatrists. Hostile therapists. One-dimensional therapy for ailing minds, like the one-dimensional therapy for sick bodies offered in the other medical center institutions. And, they suggest that holistic ideas are farfetched!
Each specialty in medicine seems to have its own stereotyped personality and the practitioners within that specialty reflect that personality – or is it the other way around. Surgeons are generally aggressive and in a hurry. Internists like to think and play with protocols, numbers, and statistics. Pediatricians are internists in miniature. Psychiatrists, pathologists, and radiologists stand on the fringe of medicine and, it seems, at an even greater distance from people. None of them ever really touches patients – other physicians and assistants don’t touch patients lest it be with gloves. Radiologists study x-rays, pathologist read tissue slides, psychiatrists study behaviors.
The long white medical frock seems to well symbolize the separation between physician and patient. These days, physicians are clean and sterile (interesting word – sterile), patients are unclean, infectious, and needy. Physicians too often use their titles, dress, and equipment to maintain distance from the very people whom they claim to aid. It has been that way for centuries.
There is an aphorism which passes around the medical community in varied forms which puts some of the specialties in a humorous, but revealing perspective. It goes like this: “Family physicians know nothing and do nothing. Internists (especially neurologists) know everything and do nothing. Surgeons know nothing and do everything.”
There may well be some truth in the pronouncement on family practitioners, but their office work seemed “down to earth” to me compared to the high-powered practice in the University Hospital. Throughout our third year, we were required to spend an afternoon each week in the Family Practice wing of the downtown Houston Memorial Hospital. It turned out to be a break from the regular rotation routines and/or stresses. The FP professors and residents were much like old-time general practitioners but they were unimpressive from the angle of knowledge and clinical acumen. So, it goes. It’s not easy to be well-rounded enough to even approximate wholeness.
Family Practice was not looked highly upon by most physicians or students. “Real medicine” was considered to be exercised by internists and surgeons and specialists, and much of that in a hospital setting. Or so the paradigm was consciously and unconsciously touted.
I found myself relatively happy with Family Practice. It was more akin to my kind of REAL practice. Maybe I found some kinship there which grew over time. Maybe one of my most satisfying experiences on the rotations, which occurred at the FP Clinic, helped form that sense.
In the course of our weekly Family Practice experience, the faculty became somewhat innovative. They assigned each student a new patient to interview before a videotaping camera. Soon after the taping, the interview was discussed in the presence of other students and supervising physicians. Each student was further expected to follow his/her patient over the course of the coming weeks.
Joyce was selected as my patient. I met her for the first time only moments before the video interview. We sat less than comfortably before the camera as I conducted one of my first clinic interviews. Still, Joyce and I had a wide-ranging conversation that allowed me to bring out things about her which had not been previously discovered.
Joyce was a slim, black woman in her late thirties who came to the Hospital Clinic in downtown Houston that day because of left-sided chest and arm pain. She had, just moments before, consulted with a Family Practice resident – so, she got extra attention that day. That particular resident, who was already trained in psychiatry, had conducted a history and examination of the patient. He then ordered blood tests and a heart tracing. The procedures revealed “no significant abnormality.” All that was and is quite standard procedure for dealing with a patient presenting with such a complaint. But, it didn’t do Joyce much good. It likely cost her more money than she could reasonably afford. Although I honestly did not know how she paid for her care. As mentioned before, the business and costs of medicine were never broached in the course of our training.
Joyce thought her general health was “pretty good.” She had, however, undergone a total hysterectomy some months previously for reasons which are now quite forgotten by me. Joyce showed little emotion during the interview, tearing but once when speaking of her daughter. She did admit to occasional moments of loneliness and depression. Joyce took no medication routinely and had not been offered estrogen replacement.
Joyce generally worked as a store clerk, but had recently moved to a new job. There it was. The obvious cause of her chest pain – at least outer cause. It had been entirely overlooked by the psychiatrist training to be a family practitioner in his undoubtedly brief and hurried moments with her. You see, Joyce had only a few days previously taken on new work as an elevator operator in an old downtown office building. Joyce's job was relatively easy, taking people up and down the building levels. “Oh, I don't mind it. I kind of like it.” Joyce merely had to conduct people, push buttons, and manually open and close the elevator door using her left arm. Open and close. Open and close with the left arm.
The obvious cause of Joyce’s chest pain was missed because the resident physician was concerned about and looking for a heart attack. In Joyce’s situation, a heart attack was quite unlikely, a muscle strain and pain due to relative overexertion was more common-sensical. Joyce was not unusual, nor was her problem. Yet, she was a unique person who deserved more than a simple cookbook approach to a significant incident in her life.
There were deeper dimensions to her story which I certainly didn’t fully realize at the time. One dimension related to her hysterectomy and inability to bear more children. Joyce had suffered the loss of ovarian hormones and the disruption of function in her whole reproductive and endocrine system due to her surgery. More importantly, she was trying to deal with her separation from child and husband. All those factors were no doubt contributing to her “heart ache.” But, neither the psychiatrist nor I knew how to deal with those very significant aspects of her discomforts of body and soul under the bounds of time and place.
My contribution to Joyce’s wellbeing was limited. I did get her started on estrogen replacement (standard practice). I saw her in the clinic and spoke to her over the telephone from time to time. I listened to her and encouraged her attempts to improve communication with her daughter. I shared her life in a small way and for only a short time. Hopefully, I did so in a humanistic and caring and somewhat artful manner.
DIGRESSION§ In retrospect, I imagine visiting Joyce in her home surroundings. However, such was never encouraged or even suggested at any point in our medical training. House calls have been out of vogue for generations, but sadly so. Modern medicine equates with offices, clinics and hospitals. But, the present system which draws sick people to those facilities creates quite abnormal situations. People get sick at home, at work, on the road, in school, etc. But, most especially at home. That while medical investigation almost totally ignores “the scene of the crime-incident-accident.”
One of the wonders of the Cayce phenomena was the “house calls” that the Sleeping Prophet so easily did. Would that medics could try to emulate him by making visitations. I have been told that home visits by doctors are not unusual in Europe while they are very rare birds in America. At the same time, physician’s history-taking usually addresses little or nothing with regard to the environment in which the patient’s illness arises. So much is lost, missed or ignored simply because patients “go to the doctor” instead of the doctor going to patients, as was most common in days of yore. §
The third year of medical school was winding down. I wasn’t looking forward to spending time on the Surgery Service. Deep in my unconscious surely lay muted memories of watching and even executing surgeries in other lifetimes under crude and often deadly circumstances. Good that they were muted. It was hard enough even that way.
I must say that surgeons do not fully follow the pattern of avoidance of touching patients. While they may distance themselves from many kinds of intimate communication with patients they are definitely not afraid to touch them. After all, they are the mechanics of the medical arts. They are the first to intervene in urgent situations. Saving lives is the surgeon’s business.
But, the touch of a surgeon is different than that of any other specialist. It is quick and deliberate, probing and penetrating. He/she “gets in and gets out.” Whenever I scrubbed for the OR and got close to the operative field, I was fascinated by the surgeons’ pride in how small they could make abdominal incisions and yet fully excavate for internal pathology. On the other hand, obstetricians, at least when doing Caesarean sections, made great wide surgical swaths horizontally across the brims of pregnant pelves to allow lots of room to remove endangered babies. They then gingerly repaired their invasions to make tidy, almost invisible “bikini scars.”
My surgical rotation was a quite different kind of test for me than all of the others. I think most everyone has some significant conflict to deal with when he/she spends time on a surgical service, whether as a med student or intern, resident or certified surgeon, nurse or technician, patient or family member. Maybe the confrontation was a little more traumatic for me than others. It sure seemed like it.
For as long as I can remember, I have found it a challenge to relate to Scorpio personalities. And, surgery and surgeons are most definitely ruled by the piercing and cutting power of Scorpio. Even the best of surgeons have a simplistic “cut to cure” mentality as part of their makeup. They are mechanistic in their view of the human being, which is all right if paired with a subtle human touch and a woeful shortcoming if not. Several in the field reminded me of the bloody-handed barber-surgeons of the 18th and 19th centuries. We do often reincarnate into personas and professions similar to those of our previous lives.
Fortunately, I learned a few things while on the Surgery rotation and those were mostly from the Chief of Service. Dr. Jim (Red) Duke of television fame. While I never became his fan, he certainly gained my respect by one particular interaction he had with a patient in the presence of the ward team. Duke was a hard-charging, no-nonsense cowboy who was also Director of the Hermann Hospital Emergency Center and Trauma Team at the time. He eventually became somewhat celebrated by doing a syndicated Health Reports show and having his life played as Buck James by Dennis Weaver on television. It ran briefly on ABC in 1987-88.
I remember the wiry, redheaded, bespectacled Duke careening through Hermann Hospital corridors with our entourage keeping close pace behind him. He was quick to make decisions and move on to the next task at hand. It seemed like he wished to teach, but generally was in too big of hurry to do much it. Still ...
He wasn’t afraid to spend time and get close to patients, an unusual occurrence it seemed, especially for a surgeon. I remember our group standing behind him during morning rounds in a man’s hospital room as Duke traded questions and answers back and forth with our patient. Something caught his attention and caused him to move closer to the man’s bed. Then, he sat down on the edge. He motioned for us to leave the room as I heard him say to our patient, “Have you got time to talk?”
“Have you got time to talk?” Wow! Consider the implications of that simple remark from a high-powered surgeon to a patient.
Communication is so important in the present age that it is hard to imagine life without mouths flapping and words flowing from them. Yet, there must be times when we all wonder if our wind is worth the effort, especially when we remember it takes two to have a conversation. Medical practitioners use clever and honed questioning in their desire to quickly get to “the bottom of the case.” However, those rote litanies often elicit flat, dull or meager responses. This causes physicians to often find what they are looking for rather than the truth. “A person hears only what he understands.” (Goethe) But, will the result be good for their customers: patients with unique and personal problems?
But, Red Duke was a different, physician and surgeon. He had that brash “cut him open and stop the bleeding” part to him. But, he also was a wise ol’ country boy. Duke seemed to have a goodly share of common sense and compassion in him. He was an enthusiastic cheerleader for his brand of medicine and surgery, for his trauma center, and for the medical school. He no doubt cheered for patients, too. Enough to take time out from playing Chief of the Surgical Team to close the door and sit down to converse with another soul. “I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of that hospital room,” as my mother would have said. I might have learned even more.
Whether it [healing] is accomplished by the use of drugs, the knife, or what not, it is the attuning of the atomic structure of the living cellular force to its spiritual heritage. (1967-1)
Healing comes in many forms and I am quite sure Red Duke knew that. If a man needed the knife, so be it. If he needed some one to talk to and hear “the rest of the story,” Dr. Duke could surely handle that. But, many of his residents weren’t seasoned enough to fill Duke’s shoes.
I only encountered James Duke, M.D., a few times. My job and study was mainly with his Surgery Service. Which meant his residents and team. Unless Duke was nearby, my attention was directed to his Chief Resident and the patients at hand. The first surgical patient I remember meeting was an elderly black man who was in serious danger for life and limb. Abraham Johnson had been in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit for some days and was being readied for skin grafting. Abraham had suffered severe burns to the greater parts of both of his legs as the result of a freak accident.
The hard-to-believe story went that one evening, Abraham was sitting peacefully in his easy chair watching a favorite television program when the TV exploded before his eyes. Mr. Johnson unfortunately had some neurological deficit which prevented him from responding rapidly to this emergency. What should have been a minor mishap became a major physical trauma.
On that same day, the newbies were introduced to the even greater oddity of the whole surgical wing, Jeremy Jones. Jeremy was a twenty-five year old man who had been injured in a motor vehicle accident several years previously. He was left quadriplegic – all extremities paralyzed . Jeremy reacted not atypically to his grievous injury by throwing out his anger toward everyone who came into his aura. He eventually landed in a nursing home. His condition and care deteriorated over time as the aides and nurses “burnt out” trying to deal with both his devastated body and his hostile attitude.
Jeremy had been admitted to the University Hospital because of huge gaping, oozing, stinking bed sores over both hips. He had been treated with the gamut of surgical debridement, continuous dressing changes, and a host of antibiotics with no lasting benefit. The surgical staff was at that time making the decision to do a radical operative procedure to “fix” his problem.
Radical repairs or even routine operations were never (at least in this lifetime) high on my list of favorite medical interests. Oh, there is a genuine mystique about the Operating Room, but not one powerful enough to hold my attention long. At the present point in my life, I imagine that much of my distaste for surgery comes from myself being a battle surgeon under horrid conditions during the American Civil War. That sense was submerged in my unconscious in medical school days, but has reared its head over recent years.
I tried watching surgeries from the operating theater gallery, looking over the shoulders of physicians, nurses, and students in the OR suite, and even peering into the operative field while holding retractors. I was occasionally called to the latter task which I considered engrossingly boring. [An appropriate oxymoron, I think.] It was exhausting to stand utterly immobile for what seemed like hours on end doing the job of a very dumb machine – holding a hooked metal bar or two ever so steadily and with the right amount of tension. All too often the surgeon decided that, “You’re not holding the retractor firmly enough,” or “Damn it, loosen up. You’ll tear the guy’s flesh.” It didn’t take long for my feet, back, and eyes to begin to ache. I would selfishly, but unashamedly pray that the surgeon would work rapidly and efficiently. Fortunately, I was never delegated the job of retracting for one of their marathon procedures. In fact, my retracting days were relatively few as a student as well as an intern. Thank God for small favors. As far as I was concerned, they could take those darned retractors and ....
Some days along the way, Mr. Johnson was taken to the OR. His legs were grafted with split thicknesses of pig skin in hopes of stimulating recovery from his burns. He was then returned to the SICU for observation. At about the same time, Jeremy’s festering wounds had received maximum medical management and his op day also arrived. When the procedure began, there were more techs, students, nurses, and interns in the OR than I could count.
Jeremy was wheeled into the suite on a stretcher and moved to the operating table. The crew not so dexterously propped him on his left side, anesthetized, surgically scrubbed, and draped him. His wounds were still so wet and oozing that the antiseptic scrub seemed likely to have little effect. The surgeons and helpers proceeded to flay his right leg, disarticulate the femur at the hip joint, and create a large pad over the hip with a generous portion of thigh tissue. Bluntly put, they cut his damn leg off!!
I managed to watch the spectacle for a half hour or so, but could take only so much. The operation was so revolting to me and my sensibilities. I was equally disturbed by the surgeons simplistic assumption that cutting his leg off would be a quick and effective way to get rid of his infected bed sore. Even before he went into surgery, they were making plans to eventually amputate the other limb.
Despite his terrible physical disability, his emaciated frame, and depressed mental state, Jeremy must have had some powerful will to live. For, he was soon out of intensive care and on a surgical floor. We made regular rounds to dress his surgical wound and other bed sore. I always joined in on rounds, but from that surgery on, I made myself as scarce as possible in the OR.
Mr. Johnson didn’t fare quite so well as Jeremy. Actually, his life was soon in danger for the second time. Mere hours after his grafting, he was spiking a fever, his blood pressure was drifting south, and he was in deep trouble. Johnson was in a state of shock, source to be determined. The surgeons started doing blood cultures, pumping shotgun antibiotics, and pouring in IV meds to prop up his blood pressure. Yet, they scratched their heads in wonderment about the cause of the episode. It took several hours of fighting a battle with septic shock before the chief resident had the sense to take a look at the obvious source of the problem – the recent porcine skin grafts. A grisly, oozing mess appeared when Abraham’s dressings were removed. The tissue combination had become a culture medium and the graft was rejected – or was it the other way around. With the removal of the dressings and grafts, the cleansing of the slimy debris, and the administration of lots of IV fluids, Abraham came around rapidly. But, the dangers to his recovery were not yet dismissed.
A few days further along, Jeremy was making an amazing recovery. His surgical wound was closing and drainage decreasing. While he still had the gaping sore on the opposite hip, improvement on the surgical side was easily recognizable. The surgeons seemed to take that observation as some sort of universal sign. One morning, we rounded the SICU and passed beyond Mr. Johnson’s bed. The chief resident commented on Jeremy’s speedy recovery and added, “Maybe we could do Mr. Johnson a favor and get him well quicker by cutting his legs off, too.”
I could hardly believe my ears! What a morbid, insensitive, grotesque statement! My stomach turned and my heart sank. I couldn’t wait to be out of that environment and on to the next – whatever it might have been.
Still in fairness, I must tell “the rest of the story.” Jeremy did have his other leg amputated. I heard that he did as well with the second operation as with the first. I am still amazed. He could then be propped up in a wheelchair and be pushed around the hospital corridors. I think he began to talk and open up, even make some acquaintances and friends. Somehow, the trauma of his surgery must have been insignificant to him while the procedures were strangely therapeutic and gave him a new start. A few weeks after the second surgery, I saw him from a distance in a hospital lounge in the midst of conversation with two or three other people. He seemed to be a changed person.
Strangely and sadly, I lost track of Mr. Johnson. I liked the old fellow even though he talked very little. I really don’t know what happened to him. I just hope they didn't cut his legs off.
Still, some surgeons have this simplistic “cut-to-cure” perspective as became clearer in my later experiences. They sincerely believe they are specially trained and ordained to do things beyond the kin and power of ordinary medics. And, the public clearly buys into their belief system and related propaganda.
The third year finally came to an end. We were all ready for a break of a week or two. Then, we would be able to spread our wings into Senior Electives. Actually, electives weren’t all elective. We were all elected to do a month in Radiology and one in a Surgical Subspecialty.
§ During the former, we looked over the radiologists’ shoulders during the mornings and were often given our leave in the afternoons. I used most of that time for personal sleuthing in the Harris County Medical Library. I researched a variety of odd medical topics and found lots of curious information in the allopathic library over which to pore. One of the subjects which particularly intrigued me at the time was colonics – high enemas – a common therapeutic suggestion in the Cayce medical readings.
The library had slim pickings with direct reference to colonic therapy which was in vogue around the turn of the century. But, there was a sizable number of journal articles on colectomy, the surgical removal of the colon (large intestine). At that same time, Sir Arbuthnot Lane, a British surgeon, made a name for himself by excising the colons of great numbers of patients for a wide variety of conditions supposed to be caused by disease of the large bowel. As I read those old journal entries, it occurred to me that colonic irrigations, although not quite so dramatic, surely was a more reasonable option to such a monstrous procedure as Lane practiced.
My investigations at the Harris County Medical Library also brought me to a solid conclusion which I hold to this day: With the tremendous numbers of books, periodicals, and papers catalogued in diverse libraries (medical and otherwise) and the mounting accumulation of information in the world, a determined researcher can find support for most any idea, method, or argument.
Learning and knowledge are precious commodities for the student of any age, in any discipline, and with any viewpoint. Discrimination and wisdom – the abilities to use knowledge rightly – are of significantly higher merit. Schools generally teach knowledge. It is the student's responsibility, whether he/she knows it, to discriminate amongst data, information, and possibilities, to determine meaningful values, to cultivate conscious awareness and to develop wisdom in action. Following the guidelines of the current or popular system of formal education alone rarely accomplishes the ideal. Yet, there do remain vital opportunities to learn and to discriminate within a school system, and even a medical school system. §
Besides, Radiology and the Surgery Selective, we were free to choose a month here and there. My choices started with Orthopedics, OB/GYN, Family Practice tutored in private practitioner offices. Then, I had a month at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine and another in Pain Management at Hermann Hospital. The last three electives provided many memorable experiences.
I was looking for options which fit my eclectic and holistic Cayce nature. Hearing about an elective in Pain Management, I thought “That sounds unusual, maybe innovative,” and signed up. Pain is one of those over-reaching aspects of medicine and life that we all have to address sooner or later. But, I really didn’t know what I was getting into until I showed up for duty. I found it to be drugs (anesthetics) and needles.
The program kept me at the Hermann Hospital with a fair amount of my time passed in the Operating Suite. But, the circumstances were quite a bit different from earlier days. A resident in Maxillofacial Surgery and I spent the month working under Dr. Claude Duval, a French-Canadian anesthesiologist turned pain specialist.
Dr. Duval treated patients with intransigent pain by using various types of anesthetic procedures. When common methods for pain relief were found lacking, patient failures were sent on to Dr. Duval from here and there. For the most part, Duval used para-spinal blocks in attempts to deaden or quiet supposedly irritated, inflamed, or uncooperative nerves.
Duval was keenly convinced of his methods. I gathered that the nerve blocks were intended to break the pain cycle of suffering patients, many of whom had experienced surgeries for ruptured disks which had failed. I remember no talk about healing. There were some obvious defects in Duval’s theory, but patients kept being referred and Dr. Duval was only too pleased to keep treating them.
One particular patient who sadly became a favorite since we saw a lot of him in a month. George Willing had been operated and re-operated FIVE times for low back pain and diagnosed herniated disk. George was a spunky and affable little fellow despite all his misfortune. I think the surgeries had cut him down an inch or two in size. He listed to one side, had a foot drop, and could only walk short distances without great difficulty. Willing spent most of his time in bed or in a wheelchair. We treated George on several occasions with para-spinal blocks to try to short-circuit his pain syndrome.
Performing a para-spinal block was a good way to keep three or four medical personnel busy for a couple hours. The procedure was posted on the OR schedule and we set up a tiny OR suite with the necessary materials. Dr. Duval supervised the whole procedure, yet was able to circulate through the department looking in on other cases.
Placed in a prone position (face down) on an OR table, the sedated patient only received light anesthetic gas while we plunged six large bore 12-inch long needle into his para-spinal muscles. The objective was to place the ends of the needles (three on each side of the spine) close to the para-spinal sympathetic ganglia. To “eyeball” our rather blind efforts, we shot portable x-rays. Dr. Duval frequently had us extract a needle or two for reinsertion. I never figured out his criteria for determining the accuracy of placement. When the needles were acceptably lined up, we slowly injected 50 cc (@ 2 ounces) of a Novocaine-like solution through each needle into the para-spinal muscle mass.
Whenever we took George through this procedure, he had almost immediate pain relief lasting for 24 to 48 hours. He would be ready to leave the hospital, but suddenly develop an abnormal heart rhythm. George was then transferred to the coronary care unit for observation for several hours. The internists wisely did not undertake any major intervention during those interludes. Soon, he was back on the ward with a normal heart rate and rhythm, but his back pain returned as well. The cycle was complete, but a new one would be initiated with another round of short-lived, symptomatic pain relief. Somewhere along the line, George took the hint and quietly slipped out of the hands of the Pain Management team. He was not seen again, at least while I was around.
Ben Davis was an even more memorable patient admitted to the Pain Service. Ben, his wife Emily, and I developed a comfortable rapport and friendship, and maintained a communication for many months. Davis was a semi-retired oil and gas leasing agent who had prided himself on his fitness and activity. He was referred to Dr. Duval because of chronic, excruciating pain in his right groin. The pain was originally thought to be caused by an inguinal hernia which was routinely repaired several months before he appeared at the Hermann Hospital. By the time Ben reached the Pain Service, he had been through quite a medical ordeal already and his travails were only just beginning.
Davis had submitted to a number of operative procedures following on the heels of his hernia repair in hopes that the cause of his pain might be discovered and some relief afforded. His first operative site was explored and a synthetic patch was implanted there – for what purpose I could never determine. On another occasion, his abdomen was explored and, finding nothing of great consequence, the surgeon excised Ben's appendix so as not to return from his expedition empty handed.
On a further visit to the OR, the patch was removed and the original incision re-approximated. Shortly before coming to the University Hospital, Ben had consulted a neurosurgeon who was reticent to intervene in his complicated and perplexing case. That physician did no more than suggest the use of a TNS (Transcutaneous Neuro Stimulator) and recommend a visit with Dr. Duval. Duval readily took on his case and intimated to Ben the potential for real benefit from a series of para-spinal blocks.
I was delegated the task of doing Ben’s admitting history and physical examination. He and I went over the usual medical territory and then settled down to a good visit and got to know each other a bit. Only as his hospitalization progressed did I get to know Mrs. Davis. Eventually, it was Emily who corresponded with me and kept me abreast of her husband’s tortuous and torturous medical travels.
Ben was a wiry, feisty Texan with a dose of vinegar in his belly and a sparkle in his eye. He was in his mid-sixties, but by no means ready to kick back. He had “too much life to live.” Ben also had high hopes – too high – that Dr. Duval’s method would give him real relief. So did Dr. Duval. By that time, I was getting pretty skeptical of the whole process on the Pain Service. I had seen nothing to suggest to me that any of the procedures performed did more than cover up pain for hours or days, maybe weeks at the outside.
Ben’s turn arrived and we went through the para-spinal block routine with the six giant needles, the portable x-ray check for placement, and the anesthetic injections. As expected, there was a rapid and dramatic decrease in pain. Ben had none – for a short time – and he was pleased, almost excited. He got out of bed at the first chance, walked and smiled while anticipating the best.
Alas! The relief was transient. Within forty-eight hours, Ben’s pain was back with a vengeance. Davis experienced both mental and physical agony. He told me, “I must get back to my life. I’m going to beat this damn pain – or – die in the attempt. I can’t live with this pain.”
We repeated the procedure two more times. Dr. Duval and Mr. Davis still hoped for some lasting results. They were not forthcoming. After the third round, Ben went home, a small town a couple hours northeast of Houston, to consider his options. He left with his pain masked only slightly by the TNS unit, but no regrets for his fruitless experiences at the Texas Medical Center. His hopes were dampened, but not drowned. Davis did not give up easily. Mrs. Davis held his hand when he let her and sent me letters from time to time about Ben’s continuing medical engagements.
Pain is one of those typically inexplicable, very subjective and clearly personal experiences in life. Physician attempts to elicit patient input about the nature of pain are generally futile because describing pain is just plain difficult. Medical interventions are based on weak initial information, narrow physical views, and ungainly attempts to dispense with the problem. “We understand virtually nothing about basic life functions as pain ... We are ignorant about nearly every aspect of consciousness,” wrote Robert Becker, orthopedic surgeon and electro-medicine researcher. Along the way, he added, “If you ever want to embarrass a neurophysiologist, ask for an explanation for pain.”
Medicine and science are ignorant of so many things, yet they plow onward often daring not to look beyond their blinders. Real thinkers, philosophers and seers (like Cayce) threaten orthodox views too much to be given any heed toward possible validation. But, that will surely change. One day.
I was quite aware of that state of things during my time on the Pain Service, but I briefly believed Dr. Duval might have opened a locked doorway. Still Ben’s pain situation meshed in some way with my life personally and therapeutically, so to speak. Maybe I knew the Davises in a previous time and place. I enjoyed getting to know him and his wife. Patients and family, especially going through trauma and illness, need support, communication and comfort from others and not just family members.
So, I shared some of that with them. At the same time, I longed to do more than talk to people or write a prescription for pills in a bottle. To have some therapeutic skill which might directly help to alleviate human pain and suffering. Years back, I had begun my investigation of hands-on methods thanks to the Cayce readings. But, I hadn’t gotten far enough along in the process to feel comfortable with my knowledge and very useful with my hands. I would not have been allowed use them, in any case, in the Texas Medical Center as a mere medical student.
While studying and practicing Cayce massage on my wife, I made weekly visits to watch students at the Texas Chiropractic College in nearby Pasadena examine and treat their patients. With nothing but hands. Oh, they did take spinal xrays, but I don’t think the xrays made that much difference in their methods. They learned and worked chiefly through their hands.
My regular visits for an afternoon at the TCC Clinic are a fond memory to the present day. But after delving into chiropractic, I decided I really needed to attach myself to an osteopath. The Cayce Readings were so laudatory of osteopathy, it seemed like the next thing to do. “There is no form of physical mechano-therapy so near in accord with nature’s measures as correctly given osteopathic adjustments.”
To make a connection with such an osteopath, I wrote the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine where AT Still began the teaching of his profession. Paul Kimberly, D.O., Chairman of the Department of Osteopathic Theory and Methods, wrote me back and we developed a correspondence. He recommended that I look up Houston osteopath, Reginald Platt.
Platt was more than welcoming. He was pleased to have an allopathic medical student watch him interview and work on his patients. I followed Dr. Platt around free afternoons on a weekly basis like I had at the chiropractic college. His office was just a few blocks north of the medical center and within walking distance. His practice also was much more “real life” stuff than the student chiropractic clinic.
Osteopathy was in Platt’s genes, so to speak. Platt followed his father and I see there is now a Reginald Platt III, D.O.. His office had many of the trappings of the first Reginald Platt’s old time approach to patients. I could sometimes sense that father’s presence was still there. The trim, bearded, middle-aged Platt saw a wide spectrum of patients in a small aging clinic which had the feel of the old days. The aura of hours and hours of working with the hands hovered about the quarters.
Just watching over another’s shoulder did no more than get my feet wet. I didn’t really begin to understand adjustments (chiropractic) and manipulations (osteopathic) until I got away from the Texas Medical Center for a senior elective in OMT (Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy). I somehow got the Assistant Dean of our medical school to okay a month at the Kirksville College, now assumed under the umbrella of A.T. Still University.
Andrew Taylor Still
A Month at the Mecca
On New Year’s Day 1977, I boarded a train headed for a little berg in northeast Missouri. My arrival at the end of the holidays was not totally expected, so I ended up cooling my heels in the closest thing to a fleabag hotel I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, my stay in the ancient, dingy downtown edifice was short-lived. I was soon sharing a room with a freshman student from upstate New York in the top floor of the Atlas Club.
Marvin Hallberg was a nerdy Jewish young man who was always anxious or worried about something. His pudgy, bespectacled face was usually hidden behind a book even if his mind was elsewhere. When he wasn’t studying or in school, Marv seemed to be on the phone with Mom who was wintering in Florida. Mrs. H. kept close tabs on her son, talking with him every evening. I even visited with “Mom” a couple of times.
Mrs. Hallberg seemed harmless enough over the telephone. She was a charming “phone friend” for me, but I wondered about her influence on “the boy who was going to be the first doctor in the family.” Although Marvin sweated out his tests and school performance, I’m quite sure he made it through the mill. Dr. Marvin Hallberg is out there somewhere today worrying about patients and lab reports and office bills. He’s probably still chewing his fingernails, but, since he’s now the doctor, only his mama dare take notice.
The osteopathic students I met were a somewhat different lot from the allopathic bunch I knew. My observations could easily have been skewed by my position being a short-term M.D. student in a D.O. institution. I did feel well-treated during my stay. The D.O. students seemed a little more real, like hometown folks than some of their medical brethren in the metropolitan training programs. A predominance of osteopathic graduates stay in general practice and many of them do small town medicine. The reverse is true for allopaths. M.D.s tend to specialize and gravitate to larger cities equipped with high-tech hospitals.
By now, some of those distinctions are fading, especially as D.O.s have opened more schools, gained a parity with M.D.s, and been integrated into training and research programs, government and military practices throughout the states. During my time with the D.O. students, they seemed to have the “Avis complex.” They studied harder and longer, spent more hours in class, and took extra courses looking to compete with The Allopaths. The D.O. Motto could easily have been: “We try harder.”
Hopefully, the osteopathic profession will continue on until some kind of therapeutic touch comparable to their own native brand is one day assimilated into mainstream medicine. During my time at KCOM, I was told that approximately 50% of D.O.s practice straight medicine identical to M.D.s. Most of those practitioners would have gone to medical school had they been accepted. Another 40% sprinkle some manipulation into their work. Those D.O.s appreciate the value of OMT (Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy), but recognize it takes time and talent and doesn’t pay as well as handing out scripts. Another 10% eschew drugs and surgery for the greater part and have practices limited to manipulative therapy. Dr.Platt fit the latter category.
The abilities of manipulating D.O.s were touted far and wide, but even within the profession there were many who scoffed at the value of OMT. While at Kirksville, I heard the gamut of opinions. Students had a whole slew of them. Many freely admitted taking a spot in a D.O. school only because there were no vacancies at M.D. institutions. In other words, they had not stacked up to the other applicants. Osteopathic philosophy and practice meant little to them. Others were almost born into the profession – “dyed in the wool” – and followed in the footsteps of brothers and uncles, fathers and grandfathers. There was then a heavy male predominance in both osteopathic and allopathic medicine.
My month’s introduction and indoctrination consisted of attending freshman and sophomore OMT lectures and labs, participating in an upper level course in cranial osteopathy, and spending hours in the KCOM library with books, manuals, and monographs. Although I had had a whiff of chiropractic and a taste of osteopathy before my journey to Kirksville, my elective allowed me larger bites into a philosophy and modality which is fairly broad and inclusive.
I remember Dr. Kimberly patiently going over the intricacies of spinal anatomy, mechanics, and motion from one angle, then the next. His patience in teaching impressed me as much as his long experience and deep conviction in his trade. Paul was a tall man, graying, bespectacled and in his sixties; slowing down in some ways. Still, he was energetic and dedicated enough to give up a private practice in Florida and return Kirksville to teach the next generation of osteopaths.
He knew OMT backwards and forwards, inside and out. His body as well as his mind and heart demonstrated his unique gifts. Kimberly’s hands were extraordinarily sensitive and powerful tools. I can almost see them now – large bony templates covered with thin and taut, dry and aging flesh, digits cracked by time, huge thumbs flattened and spread wide beyond their expansive nails.
Those thumbs must have palpated 200,000 spines over the course of his career. Kimberly simply passed his enormous thumbs along the spine of a student, touching the joints with the slightest of pressures to sense their state of mobility and that of the surrounding tissues. Immediately, he visualized the spatial position of the spinal column, how the vertebral elements came to their arrangement, and what adjustments were required for correction. Dr. Kimberly side-bent, rotated, and flexed his subject into an odd contortion. Then, he ever so gently, but firmly, gave a quick thrust to an articular facet. The joint had no choice but to always return to its proper station and alignment. Well, almost always.
Why couldn’t I sense and feel those things? I could barely detect the spinal joint hidden beneath the strong, thick muscles which cover the length of the spine. Why couldn’t I see which way the joint was turned? I couldn’t “see” much of anything. The joints were on the inside. I was on the outside. Those joints were like a pile of children’s blocks turned and twisted in various ways and then layered over several times with thick, rubbery coatings.
The spatial arrangements were far beyond my ready comprehension. The dynamics of spinal motion were awesome, not unlike the intricacies of blood circulation or nerve action. Yet, the potential for studying and understanding the former first-hand is much greater than the latter. However, I had no training in the subtleties of bodily movement in medical school. The auscultation of the heartbeat, the taking of the pulse, and sensing of respirations were the only dynamic functions which we were taxed to learn. I must admit that the vagaries of heartbeat were beyond the sensitivity or interest of my “tin ears.” At best, I could detect a blatant abnormality.
I genuinely wanted to learn some of Kimberly’s skills. The closest I got to understanding some of his abilities at KCOM came during the sessions I attended under Edna Lay. Dr. Lay was a quiet 50-ish D.O. who “specialized” in cranial osteopathy and had been drawn into teaching some years back. She was made in the mold of the “real osteopaths” who dated to the founder, Andrew Taylor Still, and to the initiator of the cranial branch of osteopathy, William G. Sutherland.
The tale goes that while a mere student at the Kirksville school in the early 1900s, Sutherland was drawn to contemplate an exploded skull (all cranial bones had been separated from their neighbors, yet arranged and mounted to demonstrate their anatomical relationships) which was displayed in the school library. He became fascinated by the delicate sutures which connect the 26 cranial bones. His considerations suggested to him that the abutting joints of the cranium allowed for regular and dynamic movements. The long-held view of anatomists that the skull is a rigid box with an attached hinged flap (the jawbone) seemed like nonsense to him.
As Sutherland pondered on the gill-like appearance of the cranial sutures, he came to the conclusion that the skull had to possess some sort of rhythmical breathing motion. After his graduation and entry into osteopathic practice, Dr. Sutherland devoted tremendous amounts of time and energy to detect and understand cranial movements. He was eventually able to identify the cranial rhythmic impulse (CRI) which is comparable to the involuntary pulsations of the heart and respiratory apparatus. Dr. S. also discovered and described specific regular movements for each cranial bone, the reciprocal connection between the skull and sacrum (the crown and the base of the spine), and the “fluid waves” which coincide with the CRI and silently permeate the whole body. Of equal importance, Sutherland and his followers were able to determine common impingements and obstructions of the cranio-sacral system which correlate with various human ailments. Finally, the Cranial Group found ways to coax traumatized bodies to release dysfunctions of the cranio-sacral system.
Dr. Sutherland became a real hero to many osteopaths over the years. But, I gathered from various sources at the college that numbers of student and practicing D.O.s believed that W.G. had crawled too far out on a limb. Some of those people thought there was no such thing as a cranial rhythmic impulse. Others didn’t really care: “It’s got nothing to do with medicine. I’m a physician, not a bonesetter.”
Dr. Lay’s students were receptive to the concepts of cranial osteopathy and not just going through the motions. (It was an upper level, elective course.) On the other hand, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and shaking heads in the lab sessions when students couldn’t detect the movements toward which Lay directed our palpation.
As for me, I was enthralled, yet often lost in the midst of the exercises. I barely remembered the names of the all the cranial bones and had a hard time picturing them working together in a synthetic, dynamic, 3-D way. Even harder was the effort to feel the extremely subtle motions which were supposedly going on in the head of the lab partner stretched out on the table before me. I felt kind of numb to those impulses and movements which “had to be there.” And, I got distracted by the pulsations in my fingertips and in my partner’s head. My own breathing, imaging, and wonderments got in the way. Most everything seemed to prevent me getting the feel of things.
“Just touch gently and feel. Use your hands, not your brain, in this work. Don’t think. Feel.” Dr. Lay repeated time and again.
“Yeah! Easier said than done,” I thought to myself. I’d been taxing my brain for years to study and learn. I’d spent 20 years relying on my cerebral cortex and she wanted me to just detach the connections and “let the fingers to the work.”
Well, I tried. I really tried. I probably tried too hard. The best I could gather in the month’s worth of classroom and laboratory sessions was a tiny portion of the larger picture: There is another physiological rhythm beyond the cardiac and respiratory. There is a regular essential reciprocal flow within the human organism. Trauma and disease can disrupt the subtle bodily mechanisms, cranial rhythmic impulses, and cranial bone movements. Cranio-sacral motions can be detected and influenced via the human touch.
After most of those lab sessions, I felt pretty much the way I did around auto mechanics with whom I might have said, “I once saw a transmission.” As a result of Dr. Lay’s efforts, I could say, “I once felt a cranial rhythmic impulse. At least, I think I did.”
Fortunately, I was to have other opportunities to learn about cranial rhythms and like. Toward the end of my tour at KCOM, I was invited to dinner by Dr. Jerry Dickey. Jerry was a young professor in the OT & M Department under Paul Kimberly. Our connection came through having the same college alma mater, Texas Christian University.
I sat at the dinner table with Jerry and his wife, Dr. Lou Hasbrouck and his wife Hypatia, who was a Unity minister. Hasbrouck was another old-time D.O. visiting from Kansas City. After dinner, Dickey set up a portable manipulation table in the middle of the living room. “Nothing like bringing your work home with you,” I thought. But, the dedicated are like that, aren’t they?
Jerry and Lou gave each other cranial osteopathic treatments. Slowly, ever so patiently, they palpated rhythms, sensed irregularities, and nudged internal parts and movements back into the vital stream of things. They encouraged me to “put a hand in.” Jerry and Lou told me what they were sensing and what I “might feel.” I nodded, knowingly?
Despite my lack of real comprehension of the activity, a bit of osmosis must have taken place that evening. The triangle of people intent on sharing in a social-investigative-therapeutic setting was a refreshing experience for me. I was from that moment definitely convinced that there was something to cranial osteopathy. I had to learn more about it – some day.
My time at KCOM sped by all too rapidly. I had to leave the Mecca of Osteopathy for the Capital of Allopathy – The Texas Medical Center. Before I left, I wrote a short essay for the school newsletter, Still Kickin’. I commented on the values of osteopathy, past and present, and my hopes that the essentials of the profession might someday be accepted and utilized in orthodox medicine. I boarded a train back to Houston thinking about the irony of my visit to Missouri. The most valuable and enjoyable month of my medical school career had been spent at an osteopathic college.
Edgar Cayce in ArizonaBefore the winter was over, I spent a month in Phoenix. Arizona. The medical school authorities knew nothing about the Edgar Cayce end of things at the ARE Clinic. They just recognized the clinic as having licensed family physicians. So, getting a rotation there was “no problem.” I still wonder about me being okayed to do a month at an osteopathic school.
Memories of the clinic from that era are rather foggy and mixed in with later associations with it. Mainly, I remember the McGareys being almost everywhere in one capacity or another. Bill and Gladys had been leading the ARE Clinic, with approval and support from Hugh Lynn and Headquarters in Virginia Beach since 1970. They had known about Cayce for years, but only gradually made the transition to become Cayceites and holistic pioneers.
Keen on Cayce, they were always happy to have other medics of similar minds join them. I suspect they were hoping for physicians so committed that they might take up long-term tenure with them. That seemed never to eventuate. Instead, the McGareys and the Clinic provided experiences for all sorts of medical professionals interested in Cayce and holistic medicine in general. Along the way, the Clinic provided family medicine and midwifery and alternative therapies for locals and people from all over the country and the world.
During my first time at the Clinic, there were four or five McGareys employed there. I stayed at the apartment of nephew John B. McGarey who was the clinic biofeedback therapist at the time. We got along well. He was a little fellow. Always telling stories and making fun. I got my first taste of biofeedback from John, who I see is still in the business in Phoenix. Through recent reading I have discovered that John B. and I have had the same nickname for years: Butch.
Several other family members joined the Clinic over the years for different periods of time. Along with the Gradys, Harvey and Peggy and children, who were like family for a long time. Peggy was the head nurse. Harvey was the mystic who operated the Graham ETA machine, about which more later.
Besides biofeedback, I was treated to my first professional massage and experienced (rather than treated to) my first colonic. Both highly touted in the Cayce repertory. Sadly, not much room has been made for either modality in regular medicine.
I spent most of my other time at the Clinic looking over the shoulder of one practitioner or another. Then, Dr. Bill pointed me towards readings to study. At the time along with the ETA machine, it seems that Bill was particularly interested in various electrical and magnetic devices suggested in the readings. The Clinic eventually developed an Energy Medicine department with Harvey Grady as its director.
When I turned back to Texas, I had a better sense of the Clinic and its broad-ranged efforts to give the Cayce readings their due. I also had first-hand experience of the McGareys as staunch and courageous pioneers in modern holistic medicine. Much more of their stories and that of the ARE Clinic will follow.
I wasn’t home free when I got back to Houston and the Texas Medical Center from the Cayce Clinic. There were a few more hoops to pass through. And I almost shot myself in the foot a couple more times.
One day, I ran into Ben and Emily Davis at the Hermann Hospital while I was passing through the clinic section of the building. Ben’s inguinal pain persisted and he’d had enough of Dr. Duval’s big needles. Mrs. Davis asked, “Do you know an acupuncturist?”
Before the day was out, I escorted them to Dr. Platt’s office. Platt proceeded to spend a generous amount of time with Ben on that and several succeeding days, using every modality and approach at his disposal. The Davises stayed in a motel close at hand and visited Platt once or twice daily. Reggie gave Ben gentle osteopathic adjustments and acupuncture treatments as well as analgesics. Davis still got needles but nothing like the huge ones he had dealt with at the Pain Management Service. Sadly, the benefits of Dr. Platt’s intense efforts were modest and short-lived.
Through letters from Emily I learned that Ben continued to make the rounds until he found his way back to another hospital. The neurosurgeon, who previously had refused to operate on Ben, proceeded to do a neurectomy, cutting the nerves into his groin. That apparently without effect. Eventually, Davis had a cordotomy – partial transection of the spinal cord – even while brain surgery was being contemplated. But of a sudden, Mr. Davis died of “unrelated” complications.
I clearly remembered Ben’s words: “I’m going to beat this pain – or die trying.” Well, Ben certainly could not be accused of lacking guts. But surely, there must be a better way. I thought Reggie Platt might help the agonized man, but such was not the case. At this point, I have to imagine that Ben had suffered enough and it was time to go. He will be back.
Well, I stuck my neck out without much of a thought to take Mr. Davis away from giant needles and the Texas Medical Center to a lone osteopath wielding tiny acupuncture needles. The Davises asked and I tried to help. At the same time, I could have been skewered for life if the word ever got out.
It was not long thereafter that I nearly created worse problems for myself. You see, I was on the last leg of the last year assigned to a month of Surgical Selectives: Ophthalmology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, and Urology. I remember nothing of the rotation except for the time that I was directed to do a physical examination on a private patient.
The patient had progressive, metastatic cancer of the prostate. The gentleman who was in his 70s had had his prostate removed some months previously. He was on the next day’s OR schedule to have a bilateral orchiectomy – in laymen’s terms, castration – in street language, the surgeon was going to cut his balls off. The rationale was that surgical removal of the male gonads would decrease or stop the supposed adverse influence of testicular hormones on the progress of his prostate cancer.
The history and physical exam went uneventfully in the patient's room until . . . As I was concluding my task and putting my instruments back into my black bag, the patient and I began to talk about his scheduled surgery. In retrospect, I imagine that it was my state of mind more the patient's which generated the conversation and most certainly the fallout from it. The patient seemed uncertain about another surgery and opened the door for a comment by me, who always had an opinion on things medical. I felt like saying, “I sure wouldn’t let anyone cut my balls off.”
But, my words were slightly tempered and came out something like , “This procedure seems extreme to young man like me, but . . . ” after a pause, I concluded, “your physician surely has good reasons for performing the operation.” I added a few more choice, but now forgotten words.
I was immediately afraid that I had committed pre-graduation suicide. What was I doing, thinking, feeling to say such a thing – truthful and honest, but lacking in any tact and discretion? Ah, how gauche! How large my mouth must have been to fit a foot covered with a size 10 shoe into it! That was obviously something that shouldn’t have come out of a medical student’s mouth.
It didn't take long for the repercussions to hit, minimal though they turned out to be. From my mouth to the patient’s ears, my words were soon forwarded to his urologist. The latter was very upset, and rightly so. To my good karma, Dr. Corriere, the Chief of Urology, covered for me. He must have been an okay guy. We spoke over the phone about the incident which apparently was no big deal to him. I pleaded guilty and told him that it wouldn’t happen again.
It certainly would not happen again in Houston because the last moments of medical school were nigh. Graduation day for the Class of ‘77 finally arrived. Forty-seven medical students received diplomas. I was one of them. A few of the original 52 had to repeat a course. There were two graduation ceremonies – one for the whole Health Science Center and a private one for the medical students. A reception was held at the new medical school building for the fresh grads, our families, and the faculty.
Most of my family came for the festivities. So did Kathy’s. My parents were somewhat awed by the whole occasion. Their son become a “doctor” and graduating from medical school in the Texas Medical Center.
The celebrations and speeches were typical. Except to me, there was an obvious and significant omission: The Physician’s Oath. We took none. What happened to the long-standing tradition which challenged young physicians to follow in the footsteps of Hippocrates and Maimonides? I wanted a challenge, but was I really ready for it?
I had experienced a lot, learned some and survived. I had been exposed to a wide range of orthodox medicine as well as quite a spectrum of alternatives on my own initiative. But, was I any wiser than the rest of my comrades? I had knowledge and experience from two paradigms – or more. Still, my ability to combine both worlds in a practical way remained to be seen. I had discovered many possibilities, probably too many for the times and the limited talents at my disposal.
In the last weeks while graduation was coming on, I made two appointments with my favorite teacher during my time in Houston. He was no physician, but rather William David, Director of the Esoteric Philosophy Center. I never quite absorbed the substance of his teachings on Sound, Vibration and Color, a course of which I attended. But, I was taken with his warmth and vivacity and his being. Mr. David also gave readings drawn from the Akashic Records.
I had been around him enough to trust that he was the real deal. On the first occasion, Kathy came with me to see what he might share with us regarding our past lives together – a topic not new to her, yet still somewhat intimidating. David chiefly focused on a life we spent together when “the two of you traveled for a period around Europe and dramatized in song and word pagan myths and the parables of the Bible. You were Hans and you were then Elena.” Interestingly, Kathy’s middle name is Elaine, which was also her mother’s first.
Mr. David went on tell me that I had during that lifetime endeavored to become a Meistersinger, but without success. “You had the technique. But, you didn’t have the feeling.” Music and feelings were two parts of life I resisted for years this time around. But eventually, we became well acquainted, almost friendly.
David did mention Kathy and I having medicine in common and our similar calls to be of service. He pointed me out in one moment saying, “You must learn that people are different. They are different from you as you from them. You are strong and keen-minded. You also have a thick skin and can take a lot of pain. Others can’t. Do you know that? Well, it is something you must learn.”
I do believe that Kathy enjoyed the session and Mr. David in particular. He was warm, kind, and welcoming to her. Still, she was always unsure of metaphysical things. Fundamentalist more than mainline Christianity fit her persona and probably her soul. I have yet to come to an understanding how we got paired up. Kathy helped me – ever so slowly – to learn about those feelings of which Mr. David spoke. I am unsure how I ever really helped her other than by being a strong presence in her life for ten years.
I went alone to the second session just days before departure to an internship in a military hospital. I can even now see David’s wonderful beaming, bespectacled, round face topped with his quite bald pate. He loved to laugh and make jolly. He had a robust, resonant voice which he had developed when studying for a not-to-be materialized opera career.
David was wide awake in his chair just a few feet from me, but didn’t seem fully present as he appeared to be searching above, within and around us. He leaned back, closed his eyes and took some deep breaths.
At times, he asked me for questions. But mostly, he just tuned into who I was and where I was going. He knew very little about me from regular sources except that I was a medical student getting ready for further training in the US Army.
The first words which came from his lips were something to the effect of “The Records show me your outstanding quality to be inventive mind. Yes. Inventive mind.” He settled on those two words for a few moments. I was a bit surprised at those words, but have come to see the truth in them. They seem to go along with Uranus in my first astrological house of which I mentioned earlier as having in common with Edgar Cayce.
I remember asking about connections with my family. He cackled at that, “Well, you are of a similar vibration. But, you come from a much different place, so to speak.”
David told me of a lifetime as Isaac, a Russian Jew, who was an itinerant musician and entertainer. It sounded like the Jewish life was rather distressing from the angle of persecution. Further on, he told me of times in Atlantis as well as Sodom and Gomorrah of Bible days. David guffawed over some of my “potent names” in those periods. “You had some power then and weren't afraid to wield it. Don’t kid yourself.”
I had to ask if I had ever lived proximate to Edgar Cayce. “Yes, you were with him in Egypt when he was called the Ra Ta. You were then named Im Ra.” I don’t recall him telling in what capacity this soul attended the Ra Ta.
Besides that period, my greatest claim to fame in lifetimes according to David comes from the days of the Roman Empire. “You drove for Caesar himself. You were his chariot driver in the Gallic Wars. You did well by him and he honored you highly. You also may some day recall the healing work you did at that time with the oils and the HUM. You had a favorite daughter who assisted you.”
When it came to closer times, he seemed to slip into normal consciousness for a time and make some off-the-cuff comments about Army bases and opportunities. He had been in the Army during the Korean Conflict. “The Army. Ah, yes! A place for you to learn how to live under authority, rules, and regulations. As you have at times in the past given them out. You will also learn a bit about life there, too – and how to face your self. Much to learn there. You’ll soon see.”
I remember him distinctly saying about my beliefs with regard to upcoming internship, “You can do it. But, don’t talk about it.” Well, I dropped that ball really quickly.
But, David continued by touching on a lifetime in the 19th century: “You were trained as a physician in France. But, you studied after Mesmer and learned his methods. At some point, you traveled to America and settled in San Francisco. You had some real disappointments there. The medical officials would not accept your credentials from France. So, you set up some kind of apothecary shop and did your real healing work quietly in the back room. Do you realize, you are repeating some of that now?” [Transcript synopsized here.]
Well, I realized but little of what Mr. David spoke. I had been repeating myself in a number of ways for some years, already. But, there were a number of parts to the latter story which would takes many years to become apparent. We shall see how they unfold.