Chapter X: the traditional clinician.

AuthorFenigsen, Richard
PositionOther People's Lives: Reflections on Medicine, Ethics, and Euthanasia

When I turn my mind to the environment in which I was educated as a physician, to my teachers and my colleagues, a certain radiance surrounds this circle of people. What kind of people were they? What kind of person did I try to become? The general attitude to which I refer is difficult to define. We did not analyze it, we lived it; I only became fully aware of it when I was confronted with the very different conduct of "modern" doctors.

Years ago I coined the (only slightly ironic) term "Grand Seigneur Attitude" to describe the cast of mind, the manners, and the rules of conduct that have distinguished clinicians for a century and a half.

For many of us in Lodz, Poland, my teacher Dr. Jerzy Muszkatenblit-Jakubowski (1887-1967) was the embodiment of a great physician. Born to a middle class Jewish family, in his youth he got involved in leftist politics, knew tsarist exile to the far North, escaped, studied medicine in Paris, served as a military doctor with the Russian Army in World War I, lived through the revolutionary years in Russia, and returned to Poland to become one of Warsaw's most successful practitioners and later the popular and revered teacher of clinical medicine in Lodz. Trained in excellent hospitals, disciple of Huchard, Vaquez, and Widal, at home in three great cultures, having a native's command of the three languages, a friend of Polish, French, and Russian writers, theatre people, painters, and poets, he had broad interests and saw medicine in proper perspective. He realized how helpless we ultimately were, yet he knew, too, what a difference we often were able to make; and he had the calm certainty that ours was a unique art, one that made exceptionally high demands on a person's learning, diligence, judgment, emotional balance, and moral strength. All his diverse interests notwithstanding, Jakubowski had the gift, and the firm habit, of focusing his attention entirely on a patient. While he was listening to a patient's history, examining the patient, pondering a decision, he wouldn't let an irrelevant thought enter his head.

Jakubowski's diagnostic insights which impressed us so much were the workings of his quickly associating mind that drew on a solid medical learning, vast knowledge of life, and intuitive understanding of fellow human beings.

He knew very well that money did not matter, but good name and being faithful to the rules of the art did; and he lived up to his convictions. He calmly dismissed all authorities' attempts to meddle with our work, was...

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