Contributor: Richard Gorenberg
It was my first patient for presentation to Dr. Stead on Osler as a medical student. I had stayed up all night preparing a perfectly concise history and physical after doing all the lab studies and making sure every "T" was crossed. The diagnosis and journal references don't matter because I never got to them.
The professor stopped me during the chest findings and asked about the patient's very obvious pectus excavatum. "How big is that sternal deformity?" he asked with a slight smile.
"Pretty big," said the boy from New Jersey. "Biggest, I've ever seen." But how to describe it away from the bedside was what he was getting at, I guess. (You all know the rest. I brought a cup of water and poured it into the wide-eyed man's chest until it trickled onto the sheets.
"Bring me a large syringe, Dr. Gorenberg."
I did and he slowly sucked out the water from the deep concavity.
"That's a 900 cubic centimeter pectus, Doctor.....NEXT CASE."
I didn't learn a damn thing about whatever that patient had that morning. But I sure learned how to think. I have had a few correspondences with this remarkable man (whose birthday is the same as my eldest child's and birthyear the same as my cardiologist father).
I have met some brilliant physicians, including the late Bruni Herrero, who was chief resident during my medical internship year at Duke.
My father, who passed away shortly before the morning I presented that patient to Dr. Stead, was among them.
In my mind, as one of the no doubt lessor-knowns who followed him around Osler Ward those couple of months, Dr. Stead is at the very top.
Thanks, Dr. Stead. I am still listening to, and OBSERVING my patients.