Coda: Counting Stars

Bhagirath Majmudar reflects on a life in medicine
coda

Jason Raish

A scenic journey of more than forty-four years of uninterrupted teaching at Emory School of Medicine, when halted by retirement, calls for a pause to ponder. It looks like a prolonged period on a scale of time, but it passed like a blissful blink.

During this time, I saw six deans and four chairs each in the Department of Pathology (my primary appointment) and Gynecology-Obstetrics (my secondary appointment). The journey reached an undeniable peak when current Dean Christian Larsen was appointed, as I distinctly remember him as a second-year medical student. I also remember Brenda Fitzgerald, the current health commissioner of Georgia, as both a second-year medical student and as a gyn-ob resident.

But I am after all a teacher, gratified but unaffected by the glorious achievements of a few of my students. They are only a few of the thousands of students who modeled my life and to whom I am deeply grateful. 

“How vacant the night will look, if only moon was allowed to shine, and not the million stars,” said the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. I am happy to have seen innumerable such stars at Emory, and they have guided me as stars always do. As men and women, they were mortals in themselves, but together they secured the immortality of our institution. Dislodged stars do not leave an empty sky behind. 

The growth of Emory School of Medicine has been spectacular, symmetrical, and harmonious during the past few decades. The school for sure has changed, but the change has been disciplined and well planned. The medical student has always been the foundation around which the school has been built and has grown. This ideology has become the core of my devotion to Emory. 

The students are chosen by their versatility including scholarship, personality, idealism, integrity, compassion, a cohesive and supportive nature, and many other traits that go toward making fine human beings besides “compleat” physicians, an expression employed by the late John Stone, Emory’s poet-physician. 

I can verify this because I have been a member of the admission committee for twenty-six years. My gratitude to the school for this invaluable opportunity is twofold. First and foremost, I got to share the personal lives of hundreds of young men and women as I read the personal accounts that came with their applications. I could understand the occult power of young men and women from this and other countries, their inner family structures, and the enormous hard work and adventures they had undertaken to reach their goals. Many of them were unforgettably phenomenal. I sifted from them the much-sought security that the future of this country is safe. At the end of each interview, however, I could not help feeling a sigh of relief that I was not competing with them. At the same time, there was also a twinge of guilt at not being able to accept all the students who were worthy because it was impossible to do so. I would like all of Emory’s medical students to be aware of the pride and responsibility of graduating from Emory School of Medicine, as they were selected with vigilant scrutiny.

Grady Memorial Hospital, now called Grady Health System, has been my foremost source of happiness. I had an uncanny feeling auguring growth and security when I entered Grady for the first time. This was instantly substantiated by the sight of evergreen medical students, rushing residents, supportive faculty, and trusting patients. I recognized that for me, Grady was the mecca of medicine. 

That feeling never deserted me for a moment during my entire stay. I was integrated as a member of the Grady family, by both medical and nonmedical staff, and showered with love, warmth, and practical support, which facilitated my professional progress. 

If the longest journey of the world starts with a first step, a journey of mission does not ever have its last step. When one pilgrim of the journey has to step out of the line, he helps others reach their journey’s end so that pilgrims continue to progress. “Beginning of an end is only an end of beginning,” was an expression employed by Sir Winston Churchill. I feel fortunate to have a firm foothold, not on the last, but on a lasting step of my journey. The job ends but the commitment continues. 

I will conclude with a locus classicus by Shakespeare—“Life is a story, told by an idiot, full of noise and fury, signifying nothing”—modified by me by dint of a poetic license: Life is a story, when heard by a wise man, is full of poise and no hurry, dignifying everything. The dignity of Emory will constitute my “everything.” 

Bhagirath Majmudar is a professor emeritus of pathology and an associate professor emeritus of gynecology–obstetrics in the Emory School of Medicine. He was the 2009 recipient of the Evangeline Papageorge Award, the highest award for teaching given by the School of Medicine and has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards chosen by the dean and students of the medical school.

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