Emory Report
October 31, 2005
Volume 58, Number 9


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October 31 , 2005
A Gathering of Voices

John Stone is a retired professor of cardiology.

So that history may instruct us now, the figures on the Emory mosaic step lightly down from their places—their spirits walk among us:

William Harvey mapped the circle
of the circulation, found the flow
of blood continuous, discerned
the very motions of the heart,
which he had first thought were
to be comprehended only by God

Laennec invented the stethoscope and learned to
separate normal from abnormal in the heart heart
and lungs. Later, in his own chest, he discovered
the impatient plague of consumption

Roentgen rendered our bodies with X-rays,
light and dark, lung and blood,
heart and bone; every image had the look
the shadow and foreshadow of Magic

Across the great ocean from each other,
Semmelweis and Holmes
pioneered antisepsis in obstetrics
They learned much from midwives
They rescued babies and their mothers
from childbed fever—
They washed their hands

Florence Nightingale
washed our hands and her own
Proved that clean hands in war
are at least as valuable as bravery:
She fed, clothed, saved the soldiers
She founded Nursing

For Mercy has a human heart
says William Blake
So say we all

Vesalius conjured up Anatomy and found it Art.
De Fabrica Humanis Corporis (The Fabric
of the Human Body) is his masterpiece

James Marion Sims founded gynecology
and demonstrated around the world
innovative surgery that saved women

In 1920, in the American South, the poor
were dying of pellagra. Goldberger proved
the disease was due to vitamin deficiency,
not infection, using his own body to do so

Paul Ehrlich fired magic bullets at syphilis
Alexander Flemming reloaded the antibiotic gun
with penicillin

Crawford W. Long, in Jefferson, Georgia
was first to drip Mercy in the form of ether
above the face of a the patient, who then
breathed in both Mercy and Magic
When he awoke, his tumor was gone

For the History of Medicine
is the History of Magic and Mercy

Blackwell, Drew, Banting, Best, learned from
Imhotep, Galen, Rhazes, Maimonides, Osler

I think of John Hunter, who instructed the world
in the science of surgery, taught us about teeth,
venereal disease, gunshot wounds. Plagued
by angina when angry, he said, “My life is in
the hands of any scoundrel who provokes me.”
He died after an argument in hospital; his
coro nary arteries were calcified, hard as bone

I think of the Curies, whose radiant bones even today
must glow in the everlasting dark

I think of Watson and Crick,
who visualized the bones of an immortal helix

I think of all the Blue Babies who have become pink

in operating rooms during my lifetime

And where, on this splendid mosaic,
where, among these two and one-half
million pieces of mosaic glass
where might space for such tiny patients
be found?

The answer, of course, is everywhere.
The patient may be found all over
in every curve and corner.

For what are we all, if not patients?
For what are we all, if not teachers?

For Magic has a human face
For Mercy has a human heart

And within the walls of this great center
Mercy and Magic are learned and taught—

For teaching is what we do here—
For doctoring is teaching:

I think of the stories by which
we teach each other
in order that we might continue
to study at the feet of the patient patient

and remember the counsel of the ancients,
who in their wisdom of their days
passed down to us this pledge:

to cure sometimes
to relieve often
to comfort always.

This poem, written by Stone to commemorate the School of Medicine’s 150th anniversary, first appeared in Emory Medicine and is reprinted with permission.