Friday, September 15, 2017

The Professor's Daughter

Professor’s Daughter
By Frank DiBona
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 1966.
Vince Riggio loved to take his car out for a Sunday afternoon joyride on the upper east side of Milwaukee to behold the splendor that was Lakeshore Drive. It was not near where he lived. It was not on the way to something nor on the way back from anything. He didnt know anyone there. He merely relished the feel of the place. It was the only driving he did just for the pleasure of it.
From a house he shared with two other medical students in a bleak south Milwaukee neighborhood, he would drive north until he got to Wisconsin Avenue, the main east-west street in Milwaukee. He would turn right onto Wisconsin Avenue, heading east, toward Lake Michigan, driving first through the Marquette University campus and then through the downtown business district with its tall office buildings, fancy shops and pricey restaurants. As he approached Lakeshore Drive he could see directly in front of him The Milwaukee Art Museum, an attractive contemporary building, with its upper levels jutting out over Lake Michigan, seemingly without support. He would then turn left onto Lakeshore Drive which went in a northerly direction and was rarely out of sight of Lake Michigan. For the first five miles, the city had purchased the land between Lakeshore Drive and the lake and developed a string of parks, beaches, playgrounds, jogging trails and biking trails. In the warm weather he would see families picnicking, young people throwing Frisbees or baseballs, parents teaching their children to ride bicycles, and lovers doing what lovers do: tossing down a blanket, opening a bottle of wine and eating some crusty bread and cheese, and often, hugging and kissing. In the coldest part of the winter he would see people ice skating on the half dozen makeshift ice rinks that the city made or dozens of men (and the occasional woman) standing out on the frozen lake, fishing through holes in the ice, hoping for a perch or pike to take the bait.
Further up on Lakeshore Drive residential neighborhoods boasted fine homes and luxury apartments on both sides of the street. Young professionals and older residents whose parents or grandparents had bought the houses at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, lived in this gracious, established neighborhood. As you left the city, driving north, you came to a string of suburbs, Shorewood, Bayside and the grandest of them all, The Village of Whitefish Bay, where the houses were more accurately called mansions, huge estates that stretched from the road to the lake, sometimes a mile away. These homes had elegant wrought iron gates and fences, circular drives paved in stone or woven bricks, and mature landscapes, perfectly manicured. Gatsby would have felt at home in Whitefish Bay.
 In the summer between his freshman and sophomore year of medical school, Vince secured a job as a research assistant with Fumio Hideki, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry. This allowed Vince to stay in Milwaukee, at the South Milwaukee house. The house had the one feature the three medical students sought above all others in a place to stay: it was cheap.
            Dr. Hideki was very personable, full of good cheer and encouragement. He had three graduate students and two other research assistants in his lab. He was renowned for his work in gene function. The double-helix structure of DNA had been discovered by Watson and Crick a decade before and thousands of biochemists were now rushing to work out the details. Dr. Hideki was a leader in the mechanisms by which DNA was translated into RNA, which then was translated into proteins. He had figured out significant parts of the genetic code, the code that our DNA is written in which is then “translated” into RNA and then into proteins. His research, funded by large federal grants, was widely published.
            Every day at noon Dr. Hideki and everyone else in the lab met in a conference room to eat a bag lunch and to discuss the progress of various projects. Dr. Hideki was the charismatic center of these meetings. He was relaxed and easy going, laughed at jokes and came up with some doozies of his own. Vince thought that this was intriguing considering that Hideki, born and raised in Japan, was nine years old when Japan invaded China in 1937, thirteen when they bombed Pearl Harbor, and seventeen when Japan surrendered after Hiroshima. He and his family were displaced for three years until they made their way to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his father took a job as an instructor in Engineering. He had been a tenured professor in Tokyo. Hideki was able to complete his undergraduate and his doctoral degree in seven years despite having to master English first. He had been in the Department of Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin for eight years, the last three as Chairman. Vince would have expected someone of Hidekis background to be wary and withdrawn, gloomy and forlorn around all these Americans. But he saw none of that. Instead, he saw a man who was positive, friendly, confident, unflappable.
            Dr. Hideki was a master of impersonations. He did a fantastic John F. Kennedy, made even funnier because of his thick Japanese accent.
      There was a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Samuel Barber, no relation to the composer, who all of the students tried to impersonate. Barber would enter the lecture hall, not say hello or recognize the students in any way, and move to the blackboard in a distinctive slow walk, no bounce whatever, as though he was on some motorized device. He would then face the blackboard, pick up two erasers, one with each hand and erase whatever chalk marks were left and write the topic of the lecture on the board, say, “Biosynthesis of Non-Essential Amino Acids,” and then do an about-face and begin the lecture, without introduction, without notes, in his perfectly monotone, high pitched, squeaky, asthmatic voice. Two hours, no breaks, no further use of the blackboard, no questions from the audience. When finished, he would turn his balding head and pot belly toward the exit and walk out without saying goodbye.   Someone had altered the pharmacology lecture notes on hypnotics with this statement. “Any medical student in need of sleep should attend Dr. Barber’s lectures which have been scientifically proven to be more potent than any barbiturate yet discovered.”
         Dr. Hideki did a spot-on imitation of Dr. Barber. He mimicked his walk, his speech pattern, and his double handed erasing.
         One of the graduate students asked Hideki why they kept Dr. Barber.
         He has tenure, for one. And he is one of the worlds experts on messenger RNA. His wife and children are very normal and enjoyable to be around.
         Are you telling us that Dr. Barber actually fathered children?asked Vince. That must have been a sight to see!
         Dr. Hideki stood and did a outrageous pantomime of Dr. Barber having detached, mechanical sex with his wife. A clipboard and stopwatch was involved.
            After the lunch meeting, one day, Dr. Hideki asked Vince to come to his office to discuss something. Vince naturally thought the worst. He had done something wrong, screwed up some results, or had outlasted his funding.
            Vince, I have a favor to ask you. You can say no and I will understand. I would probably not do it if I were in your feet.Dr. Hideki had still not mastered all English idioms.
            Vince indicated with his face and shoulders to go on.
            There is a new faculty member who has just joined the medical school, Dr. Sidney Rosenthal, who will be the Chairman of Public Health. The scuttlebutt among the faculty is that getting Dr. Rosenthal was a major coup for the Dean. Rosenthal was a full professor at Yale Medical School and had turned down a dozen offers to be Chairman at other schools. He is the author of several books, including a major textbooks of public health, which Im sure you will be using next month. And he was voted Best Teacherby the Yale medical students.
            Vince indicated that he understood, but what did it have to do with him?
            I met Dr. Rosenthal at a faculty meeting yesterday. He is a wonderful man, so down to earth. So normal. Thrilled to be here. He has a daughter, nineteen or twenty, who will be starting her third year of college here in Milwaukee next month. Meanwhile she has not met anyone her age and he was wondering if I knew any unattached medical student who might show her around.
            Like a date?
            Well, yes, I guess.
            Vince was skeptical about blind dates. He could only imagine what Miss Rosenthal would be like: prissy, boring, overweight, pock marked, and with an annoying laugh. He asked Dr. Hideki if he knew anything else about this girl.
             Rosenthal described her, her name is Sheila, as beautiful and charming.   He added, Dr. Rosenthal has been on the short list for Surgeon General for several years. He is a brilliant, important man. You could do worse than to get to know him.

            Vince discussed this proposition, over some pizza and beer, with his roommates Jim and John and with Johns finance, Jenny, who was in town from Boston for a week. Jenny was a PhD candidate in Economics at Harvard. No slouch in the brains department. She was also tall, slim, and gorgeous. Vince was in love with her.
            Jim had the first bit of advice to offer.
            You need to be really careful here. One false move and youre done. If you just accidentally touch one finger to the outermost edge of one breast, really just her ribs, say like youre slow-dancing, your career is over. This is a no-win for you.
“I’d do it if I were you,said John. Take her out, show her around Milwaukee, go to a fraternity party, and then fuck her.
            Thanks for that advice,” said Vince.  “But I have a few questions.He paused to get the best phrasing of his questions.
            So, Dr. Einstein, or should I call you Romeo?
            John thought for a moment and said, Lothario, will do. A seducer of women.
            Thats not fair,said Jim. All of the great lovers have been Italian. Romeo, Lothario, Vince Riggio.
            O.K., Lothario, you imbecile,” Vince said. “So you think I should “fuck” her, the daughter of the Chairman of Public Health, who teaches a course which we WILL BE TAKING THIS SEMESTER! So, should I be on top? Whats the protocol?
            One hundred percent your choice.”
            Jenny, sitting next to John, gave him a dirty look.
            So, I fuck her, me on top, because its my choice, and I have obtained my pleasure. Should I be concerned about her pleasure?
            Of course not. Why would you do that?
            So, I fuck her…”
            Jenny interrupted him. She had sat through the conversation to this point biting her tongue. Could you guys please not say,fuck her? That is so gross.
            Youre right, Jenny. Im sorry.Vince said.
            So, Lothario, we have sex, me and the daughter of the Chairman of Public Health, Im on top, and I come in 15 seconds. And I dont have to worry about her satisfaction, right?
            So at this point do I drive her home and never speak to her again, or do I call a taxi for her and never speak to her again?
            A taxi! I never thought of that. Vince you are a genius. No wonder you got all As last year. Of course, call a taxi.
            Only Jenny had any solid advice.
            Just dont have any lofty expectations. Treat her with respect like you would treat any woman. I was in the same position as that girl once, being in a strange town and not knowing anyone, and I would have loved to have someone as smart, good looking and charming as you to show me around. Just be your adorable self. Besides, if Dr. Rosenthal is as important as your teacher says he is, you should get to know him.
            Thanks, Jenny. I can always count on you for good advice, unlike your Neanderthal boyfriend.
            Vince cupped one hand next to his lips and pretended to whisper privately to Jenny. Jenny, I dont think I have ever told you how passionately I love you. You are the creme de la creme of women. If you ever decide to drop that Cro Magnum of yours…
            Well, which is it?John interrupted.
            Which is what?
            Am I an imbecile, a Neanderthal or a Cro Magnum?
            Which is worse?
            I may drop this imbecile sooner than you think,said Jenny, giving John an impish look and a swift elbow to the ribs.
            O.K., Honey. You can be on top tonight. Just this once.
            This earned him another elbow to the rib cage.
            Jenny, if you ever come to your senses and drop him, I’ll marry you the next day. And dont forget that I’m Italian,” said Vince, batting his eyelids at her, and you know what that means, dont you?
            That you brush your teeth with garlic?asked John.                                                                      
            The following Saturday evening Vince left his house at 7:30 to meet Sheila Rosenthal at her parents home in Whitefish Bay and to take her to a gathering of friends. He drove up the familiar Lakeshore Drive, through Milwaukees Upper East Side with its manicured landscapes and solid handsome houses. He drove through the lower suburbs and finally entered the Village of Whitefish Bay.
            Twenty Five Lakeshore Drive was easy to find. The large iron gates were open. Vince pulled onto the crushed-shell driveway, lined with white-painted rocks, and was blown away by the house, two hundred yards from the road, overlooking Lake Michigan. It was a three story Tudor, pink-gray stone on the ground level, with darkly stained timbers and cream colored stucco above, and topped off with a complex thatched roof. A dark green Jaguar convertible sat in the drive, its roof down. He parked his rusting 1954 Chevy Belair next to the Jag.
            The house had a massive front door, made of heavy timbers with wrought iron straps bolting them together, and a wrought iron cage guarding the small window. He rang the doorbell not knowing what to expect.
            He was greeted quickly by Dr. and Mrs. Rosenthal. Hi, Im Sidney Rosenthal. You must be Vince. This is my wife, Valerie Scarpa.
            Valerie offered her hand and said, It is such a pleasure to meet you, Vince. Fumio Hideki has told us so much about you, all good.
            The Rosenthals were a handsome couple in their mid forties, trim, fit, and energetic. Dr. Rosenthal had thick bushy hair, more gray than black, tightly curled. He wore dress slacks and a monogramed dress shirt, but no jacket or tie. Valerie had long raven black hair that flowed like a teenagers to just below her shoulders. Vince thought she looked like Jacqueline Kennedy.
            After the pleasantries, and an offer of drinks, the Rosenthals escorted Vince through the three-story high foyer into a comfortable den, with a massive stone fireplace, a hardwood floor covered with an oriental rug, and a Steinway grand piano. On the music stand was a Chopin Nocturne, heavily marked in pencil. Someone was a serious pianist.
            Valerie offered Vince a seat on the end of a long leather sofa. There was a coffee table with a vase of freshly cut dahlias, a tray of assorted cheeses and crackers, and a pitcher of water and four glasses. Valerie sat near Vince and Dr. Rosenthal sat adjacent in a matching chair. He leaned into Vince as he asked him questions. Dr. Rosenthal knew what Yale medical students were like and he wanted to know what these Wisconsin students had in them. What textbooks did they use? What were the teachers like? Valerie asked more personal questions, about his family, his upbringing, about his aspirations.
            What should I call you? Mrs. Rosenthal or Mrs. Scarpa?Vince asked her.
            Please call me Valerie.
            And call me Sidney, please.
            I could never do that, Dr. Rosenthal, said Vince.
            Valerie and Vince shared a similar backgrounds. They were both second generation Italian-Americans from working class families. She came from Bostons North End, he from South Philadelphia, both Italian enclaves. Both Vince and Valerie made traditional Italian Christmas cookies. She made pignoli cookies, he biscotti, and they both made pizzelles. They were both close to their parents. Both were raised Roman Catholic, although Valerie was no longer practicing. When she married Sidney, who was Jewish, religion became less important to both of them. They celebrated both Hannukah and Christmas, Passover and Easter, she told him.
            Valerie, a graduate of both Radcliffe and Harvard, had just taken the position as Chief of Marketing at Northwestern Mutual Life, headquartered in Milwaukee and one of the largest and most respected life insurance companies in the country. So much for the Deans coup, Vince thought. Dr. Rosenthal had taken a step down the academic ladder to allow his wifes career to flourish.
            The conversation with the Rosenthals was relaxed, comfortable, and entertaining, not at all what Vince had expected. Both seemed so warm and genuine. He did not feel as though they were patronizing him. He forgot all about Shelia, who had not yet made her entrance, twenty minutes after he arrived.
             Just as Vince took a bite of Gorgonzola cheese on a cracker, Shelia came into the room, walked right over to him, offered her hand, and said, You must be Vince. Its a pleasure to meet you. I hope my parents havent tried water torture on you yet. The rack and thumbscrews are in the next room.
            Your parents are delightful,he said after taking a sip of water to clear his mouth. I have been enjoying them so much.
            Shelia was a clone of her mother, trim, athletic, light olive skin, the same raven hair, and the same radiant glow. Only her green eyes confirmed that Dr. Rosenthal was her father. Vnce’s mother had once told him that if you are interested in a girl and think she might be the one, you should look at her mother. Thats what she will be like in twenty or thirty years. If that were the case, and his mother was uncommonly wise, then things were looking up. He may have found his own Jenny.
            Sheila, I’m sorry but you cant go out with Vince Riggio,said Valerie, grabbing Vince by the arm and pulling him towards her.  I want him for myself.
            But Valerie, dont you think Im just a wee bit tootall for you? said Vince.
            Ha. I thought you were going to say too young’.”
            Oh no, I thought you and I were the same age.
            The four of them chatted for another twenty minutes. Vince was so impressed with Sheilas maturity, intelligence, and wit. She was confident and self-assured without being brash. She held up her end of the conversation flawlessly, which had to be difficult with such high power, intellectual parents.
            The conversation ended when Shelia rose and said that they ought to be going now. Her parents also got up and escorted the couple to the door. There was another round of pleasantries. Valerie gave Vince a broad smile and a warm hug. Vince really liked these people, all of them, including Sheila.
            Dr. Rosenthal, is there any curfew?Vince asked.
            Well, not really. Sheila is nineteen and can make her own decisions. But Val and I are light sleepers when our daughter is out so it would be nice if she could be home by 1 AM.
            I will have her back home by 1 AM, safe and sound. Count on it.
            Vince opened the passenger car door for Sheila. This was going out of fashion but he was an old fashioned sort of guy. Apropos of that he had washed the car and cleaned out its interior prior to the date. It was something his father had taught him. A clean car drives better,his father was fond of saying.And always makes a good impression.
            Vince put the key into the ignition and silently prayed. The car did not always start. This time it started first try. He drove slowly on the crushed-shell driveway onto Lakeshore Drive. Once they were out of view of her house, Sheila leaned over to him, touched his arm, and asked, Do you have any pot?
            The rest of the evening was a disaster. Vince did not have any pot. He had never smoked pot, smelled pot, or even seen pot. Rumor had it that three of his classmates, from California, of course, smoked pot regularly, but Vince could not attest to that. He thought of pot as something that black jazz musicians used.
            They went to a classmate’s apartment. Seven or eight other couples, all from the medical school, were there. Vince whispered to the host to be careful serving Sheila alcohol because she was underage and he was worried about her. He did not mention to anyone that Sheila was the daughter of the new Chairman of Public Health. But Sheila, stunningly beautiful and overtly flirtatious, was able to corral one drink after another from the guys, who were smitten by her. Vince saw her whisper something into one of the guys ear. She rubbed up against several of the guys, grabbed their arms affectionately, laugh at their jokes, and flip her hair suggestively. They circled her while their dates appeared to be annoyed.
            My dad is the new Chairman of Public Health at the medical school,she announced after three or four drinks.
            By late in the evening she was more than tipsy. She was slurring her words and making no sense. She tried to weave through a narrow pathway between a coffee table and a sofa crammed with people but lost her balance and fell into the table and in the process broke a few glasses and knocked over a bottle of red wine. Luckily, she did not appear to be injured.
            I think we should go,he told her.
            But it’s so early, darling, she said.
            Let’s go to my place,Vince lied. That convinced her.
            In the car Sheila put her head on Vinces shoulder, touched her fingers lightly to his thigh, and hinted that she was availableto him. He felt the familiar calling from his groin but knew this was never going to happen. He was about to say something to Sheila when she threw up an evenings worth of appetizers, wine and beer on herself, on him, and onto his newly cleaned front seat. He started feeling his medical career slipping away. There was nothing in the car that he could use to clean up this mess. He decided to drive to his house where Jenny would know just what to do. On the way home she vomited a few more times.  
            He knocked on the door of Johns bedroom and Jenny came out in her nightgown and bathrobe. As soon as he explained what was going on, she went right to work. Vince peered into Johns room and asked John to put on a pot of coffee, extra-strong. He then went into his own bedroom, showered and changed his clothes, hoping that the Rosenthals would not notice if he ran into them later.
            Jenny kicked John out of the bedroom, took Sheila the bathroom, undressed her and put her in the shower. She gave her one of Johns sweatpants and sweatshirts, six sizes too large. She took Sheilas dress and lingerie, washed them in the sink, wrung them out, and dried them as best she could with towels, a hair dryer, and Johns iron. Vince brought a pail of water, some rags, and a can of spray deodorant out to his car and did what he could to rescue the front seat.
            One hour later, after three cups of coffee, wearing semi-dry clothing, smelling moderately fresh, her hair blow-dried, and wearing some of Jennys makeup and perfume, Sheila seemed presentable. Vince saw Sheila to the front seat of his car.  He sped off, turned north on Lakeshore Drive, drove through Milwaukees Upper East Side, through the lower suburbs, into the Village of Whitefish Bay, onto the crushed-shell driveway of Twenty Five Lakeshore Drive, and parked next to the Jaguar, which now had its convertible top up. He walked around the car and opened the door for Sheila. He walked her to the front door and watched as she opened it with her key and disappeared into the three story foyer. Neither one of them had spoken a word since they left his house. A light came on in one of the upstairs rooms. He turned, walked to his car, and checked his watch. 
It was five minutes before one.

Dr. Rosenthal proved to be a marvelous teacher right from the beginning. In the first hour of his first lecture, Rosenthal described the scope of the course. What was public health? What was epidemiology? Why did physicians have to understand statistics?  What was medical ethics? What is triage? What were the responsibilities of physicians?  What are the laws of medicine? What is a contract? A tort? Malpractice? What were the significant turning points of the history of medicine?
            He added, “I know that many of you feel that this course is unimportant. Just a filler. What really matters is Pathology, or Pharmacology, or Physiology. Those courses are important, no doubt. Studying hard and doing well in those courses will make you smart, scientific doctors. Learning about ethics and public health, however, will make you fine human doctors. You will make you families, you patients, and your society proud of you. And you will be more satisfied yourselves.” He looked at his watch.
            “ O.K. it’s 10:50. Let’s take a ten minute brake and meet back at eleven. When we return I am going to tell you about the effect that snow had on cholera.”
            That last remark was a cliff hanger, thought Vince. He had never supposed that snow would have an effect on any illness, except, perhaps, frostbite.
            At eleven Dr. Rosenthal stood quiet and motionless at the lectern. He would not start his lecture until he had total silence and attention. The room gradually became silent and all eyes were on the professor.
            “Doctor…,” he started and the silence was broken as the last wayward student opened the door and entered the hall. Dr. Rosenthal waited patiently for him to get to his seat, open up his book bag and remove his notebook and a pen. He waited until he had everyone’s attention before he dropped his bombshell.
            “Dr. John Snow was a physician in London in 1854,” Rosenthal belted out in his baritone voice,  “during one of the worst cholera epidemics in history.” He surveyed the medical class, combing through his bushy hair with his right hand, and could not hide a smile as he noted that everyone appreciated his clever trick.
            “Snow” was a person, not a precipitation. Dr. Rosenthal may not have invented the “teaser” but he had perfected it and knew how crucial timing was.
            Dr. Rosenthal proceeded to tell them about John Snow, who had developed his theory that cholera was spread by contaminated water in 1849, five years before the current epidemic. As with many new ideas, the scholarly community laughed at the suggestion.
            “Water? Oh, no. You must be touched,” Dr. Rosenthal said.
            The 1854 cholera epidemic was in Soho, a poor, overcrowded section of London. Sanitary conditions were atrocious. The London sewer system did not reach that far. Babies diapers (he called them called “nappies”) and raw sewage were found in close proximity to water sources. Snow did something most unusual for his time (“or ours,” Dr. Rosenthal mused): he actually went to the area of the epidemic and interviewed the victims or their families. Among other things, he asked where they lived and where they obtained drinking water. He drew a now-famous map which showed that the cases were clustered around the Broad Street public water pump. Snow removed the handle of the pump and the epidemic ended, unfortunately not before 616 people died of cholera. Snow is now considered the father of epidemiology
            “There is still a John Snow Society in London and they have an annual “Pumphandle Lecture” which I was fortunate to attend a few years ago,” he added.
            “Next week we will discuss Pasteur and Koch and see the contributions they made to the understanding of how infections spread. You are dismissed.”
            Many of the students, including Vince, clapped.
            Over the next few years Dr. Rosenthal called Vince on six or seven occasions, usually to get Vince’s take on something affecting the medical students, changes or additions to the curriculum, the school schedule, or his opinion about a faculty member or student who was under scrutiny. Once he called Vince about an entirely different matter.
            “Vince, the Milwaukee Opera Guild is presenting Puccini’s Turandot this coming weekend. Val and I have great seats as well as passes for the donor’s party following the show. Unfortunately we cannot use then. Would you like to go?’
            “Wow, you bet,” replied Vince.  He never quite figured out why Dr. Rosenthal was so nice to him. He knew that he was the first medical student that Rosenthal had met and that he had been on one date with his daughter, but still it puzzled him.         

            There was only one time that Vince had to call Dr. Rosenthal for advise and assistance. When he told him about the nature of the problem, Rosenthal asked Vince to come to his office at six o’clock that evening.
            Vince had taken a six weeks pediatric rotation at Milwaukee County Hospital. While there he attended several lectures by Dr. Kevin Priester, the head of Neonatology, a burgeoning subspecialty of Pediatrics. One lecture was on the care of premature infants. Priester was as passionate about his field as Rosenthal was about his. He was also a kind and caring man, and a great teacher, even though he lacked Rosenthal’s showmanship.
            Priester told the students that when a mother goes into premature labor she should be transferred, if possible, to a hospital with a neonatal care unit. She should not be given any narcotics or sedatives lest the infant be overly medicated at the time of delivery. There should always be a pediatrician at the delivery of a premie and they had to pay attention the the ABC’s, Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. In addition the premie had to be dried and kept warm to prevent hypothermia. The survival of premies given just these basic measures was double what the natural expectancy was.
            The next six weeks rotation was in Obstetrics at St. Joseph’s Hospital, a private Catholic hospital affiliated with the Medical School. St. Joseph’s delivered more babies than any other Wisconsin hospital. Dr. Jack Krugman was the head of the Obstetric division there. On Vince’s second day on service a woman came in in premature labor. Her baby was not due for ten more weeks. Within minutes of her arrival she was given morphine and scopolamine as  a “knock-out” sedative. When the infant was delivered no pediatrician was present nor was one called.
            “The rule is that the pediatrician will be called only if the infant survives for four hours,” one of the nurses told him.
            The infant was wrapped in a blanket but was not otherwise attended to. Vince protested. “You need to call the pediatrician now.” But none was called and the infants chart was stamped in large red letters, “PRE-VIABLE.” She died an hour later, with only Vince at her side.
            He witnessed the same thing happen four or five more times over the next three weeks. He discussed it with some of his classmates to be sure they heard the same message from Dr. Priester. He also went to the Medical School library to research the subject himself.
            When he was certain that these premies were not being properly cared for Vince went to see Dt. Krugman to explain what he saw and how that violated the expected care. Dr. Krugman listened quietly and then said,
            “Get out of my office, you impertinent asshole! Who do you think you are? We are the largest OB hospital in the state and you’re trying to tell us what to do?”
            The next day Vince found that he was forbidden to go near a delivery room. He was to have no contact with any OB patients. The following day Dr. Krugman told Vince to pack up his stuff, turn over his hospital ID, and leave. He would fail OB and, if he had anything to say about it, he would be expelled from the Medical School.
            That’s when Vince decided to call Dr. Rosenthal.
            Rosenthal greeted Vince warmly and listened as he told him the details of the story. He took copious notes, asked multiple questions, and then told Vince he would get back to him in less than a week. He got back to Vince three days later and told him that he and Dr. Priester were meeting with the Dean of the Medical School at 10 AM the following day. The Dean wanted Vince there as well.
            At the meeting with the Dean, Vince told his story once again. Dr. Priester confirmed that what Vince said about the care of premature infants was exactly right. If the mothers and infants in these cases were handled as Vince said they were, then this was a serious breech from the standard of care. The Dean asked Priester to go to St. Joseph’s and see for himself. He was to report back in one week, in person, and with a written report. The Dean also called the Chairman of OB/GYN for the Medical School and gave him a similar assignment. All five of them were to meet back in the Dean’s office in two weeks.
            During the two weeks Vince was a wreck. He slept in fits. He had not spoken to his parents since this mess began. What was he to say? That he failed? That all the effort he had put in and that all the help they had given him, including financial support that they could hardly afford, had come to naught?
            Two weeks later they assembled at the Dean’s office as scheduled. The Dean spoke first. Vince remained standing.
            “Mr. Riggio, Dr. Krugman has submitted a grade of F in Obstetrics for you. He also attached a note with his submission. He said that there is no need for you to take the final exam in Obstretics, since he had made up his mind. He said that you are an arrogant know-it-all and do not deserve to be a doctor. He said that you are totally void of character or compassion. He urged me to expel you from the school. But I have read the reports of Dr.Priester and Dr. Smith, and you have been vindicated. Using my prerogative as Dean I have vacated Dr. Krugman’s F grade and have replaced it with an A. I do agree with Dr. Krugman on one point. I see no need for you to take the final exam in OB since my mind is made up.”
            He smiled.
            Vince began to cry and his knees buckled. Dr. Rosenthal help to brace him.
            The Dean added, “We are very proud of you, Mr. Riggio. We owe you a huge debt.” With that said he dismissed Priester and Smith. He pushed a button on his phone and in a few seconds in walked Valerie Scarpa, Rosenthal’s wife.
            “We have some even better news for you Mr. Riggio. Sidney, if you would do the honors.”
            “Vince, what you did was extremely brave. I’m sure that hundreds of medical students before you witnessed the same disgraceful care that was occurring but chose to ignore it, to let it ride. You chose to confront it and by doing so you exposed some horrible, unacceptable  medical care. I consider what you did to be the exact moral equivalent of what Dr. John Snow did a hundred years ago when he pulled that handle off the pump and stopped the cholera epidemic. Your actions will spare the lives of dozen, if not hundreds, of premature infants born in this city. Valerie, if you will continue.”
            “Vince, Sidney and I have been talking about this for years, really since we decided to move to Milwaukee, but given the current situation, we elected to proceed right now. We have established the Sidney Rosenthal and Valerie Scarpa Scholarship for Excellence in Public Health. We have named you the first recipient of this scholarship. I doubt that we will ever have a more deserving student for this scholarship.”
            Vince’s parents flew in for graduation. Vince loved all of the pomp, the gowns of diverse colors, the caps and tassels, the speeches, Elgar’s processional music, the slow march to the podium to get the degree. These things gave him chills. After the ceremony Vince introduced his parents to Dr. Rosenthal and Valerie Scarpa. Dr. Rosenthal congratulated them on raising such a fine son with such high standards and a strong backbone. Valerie seconded that. Dr. Rosenthal asked Vince if he could come to his office in the Public Health building just around the corner.
            “Vince we have a little present for you.”
            When Vince arrived at the office Valerie said,
            “We know how badly Sheila behaved on that date with you. I noticed the next morning that her dress was little wet and that it smelled of a different perfume and of vomit. Not knowing you very well,  I thought that you had done something to her. But Sheila broke down and confessed to her own behavior. She was lucky to  have been with a gentleman like you that night. I suppose many of your classmates might have taken advantage of her. She went into treatment for alcoholism a few months later and has been doing well since. Thank you for protecting our baby and for being such a good friend to Sid.”
            Dr. Rosenthal handed Vince a beautifully gift-wrapped box. It contained his latest book, Case Studies in Public Health. On the title page was a handwritten note expressing their praise and their love for him.
            Vince’s eyes welled up after reading the inscription.
            “I will cherish this forever.”
            “Vince, I have one last request of you. Now that you have your degree and you are a real doctor, and I’m a real doctor, that makes us colleagues. Would you please call me Sidney? Please?”

The End



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