I once read an Internet meme that went:
* Medical Student"
With Valentine's day just round the bend, the sanguine hearts bobbing in the streets were in stark contrast to the lack of romance in my own life. I needed inspiration and soon stumbled upon a biography of the celebrated Dr. William Stewart Halsted.
Born on September 23rd 1852, Dr. Halsted is considered one of the doyens of surgery. He's earned rockstar status amongst generations of medical geeks, with his timeless contributions to the field of surgery including performing one of the first cholecystectomies in the US (on his own mother atop a kitchen counter at 2AM), carrying out one of the earliest blood transfusions in the US (he removed and transfused his own blood into his sister after seeing her lie listless from severe blood loss after childbirth). He also pioneered radical mastectomy to treat breast cancer and experimented with cocaine as a sensory blockade for local anesthesia. Nonetheless, which rockstar's tale is complete without a love story? And so it goes that while working at the newly opened Johns Hopkins Hospital, our hero became smitten by a pretty damsel named Caroline Hampton who happened to be his scrub nurse. Convention dictated that surgical staff wash their hands in mercuric chloride for disinfection. However, this soon caused pretty Caroline's porcelain hands to roughen with dermatitis. The lovestruck Halsted's abhorrence for anything that tarnished the soft caresses of his lady's touch drove him to commission the Goodyear Tyre Co. to make customized latex gloves in order to protect delicate Caroline's affected phalanges. Oddly enough, its potential to act as a barrier against infection was serendipitously discovered much later.
If Miss Hampton won over Halsted's affections, in 1954 a 4 year-old girl named Pamela Schmidt conquered the hearts of all America. Headlines proclaiming her "The Queen of Hearts" graced numerous newspaper headlines and magazine covers that year. The life in her angelic smile was a testament of virtuoso Dr. Walt Lillihei's genius and the dawn of the glorious era of Cardiac surgery, for this little cherub was the first successful case of closure of a ventricular septal defect. Generations of men before Lillehei had washed their hands in blood while attempting to open the heart. Even the great Theodor Billroth had said, "a surgeon who tries to suture a heart wound deserves to lose the esteem of his colleagues". So high was the human price. But this did not deter Lillehei and in the end, his love and dedication to his work paid off. Today, thousands of VSD closures are performed annually.
Self-love, extol romance gurus, is the key to fixing that "hole in your heart" and falling in love again. But this can be a tricky task. Our immune systems, which are supposed to care for and protect us, sometimes go overboard, thus resulting in an array of manifestations from systemic lupus erythematosus to stenotic mitral valves scarred by rheumatic heart disease, from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis to autoimmune hepatitis, all deadly diseases of, basically, our own doing.
But there is hope. Generations of doctors have attested to the mind-body connect where patients heal with the power of love. A study conducted at Harvard University found women in mind–body support groups for infertility conceive 44% of the time as compared to the expected rate of 8-10% (Domar et al.,2000) and another at Duke University demonstrated how patients at cardiac risk who are not married or without a confidante are three times more likely to die prematurely of cardiac causes (Bosworth et al., 2000). However, we as students who pray at the altar of science shy away from accepting anything that lies beyond the rigid walls of our scientific teaching. And yet can we be so brash as to discount what might potentially hold the key to saving millions of lives?
In conclusion, though I may have started out with the question: Could there be, love in the time of medicine? I soon realized that love is a privilege bestowed upon man. It is limitless in its potential. It is love for our work and our patients that makes us keep coming back, keep bettering ourselves, keep fighting the odds.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything. I came away fulfilled.