The workload of medical school is legendary. Class after class, seminar after seminar. Just over halfway through my first year, the days had begun to blend together and I spent my time in lectures just trying to soak up as many scraps of information as possible. In all this chaos, it was hard for anything to stick, let alone stand out, but for my classmates and I, the lecture that stands above the rest was one that we all missed.
Dr. M had given us several lectures up to that point and in a lot of ways his presentation was unremarkable. He was a Cardiologist at UNMC, and like many of our professors, he was relatively young and energetic. He seemed passionate about what he was teaching but in the dead-rush of medical school, I didn’t look much further than the words I had highlighted on his slides. Days passed and a number of lecturers filtered through, but then late one night we got a notification that his two classes the next morning, “Ischemic Heart Disease” and “Acute Coronary Syndromes,” had been canceled and that old recordings of the same lectures would be made available to us.
If you’ve never been around medical students, it’s hard to imagine the angst of 130 Type-A personalities trapped in a pressure cooker then suddenly told that things would suddenly be just a bit harder. I’ve never seen a rhinoceros charge, but if I had, I imagine it must be something similar to the fate that met our block director, Dr. S, when he addressed us later the next day. He was a kind and quiet man, and like Dr. M he seemed deeply invested in training us to be worthy of our future patients. We were gathered in the computer lab for our second exposure to abnormal heart sounds, and he had arrived early so he could walk amongst our tables and listen to us.
At 11:00, he moved to the front of the classroom, ruffled the microphone and told us that Dr. M had been unable to give his lectures because the night before, his father had died of a heart attack. He paused as if to consider if he should go on then said, “He wanted to teach them anyway because he wanted to show you how important this is, but I personally insisted that we cancel the class.” The class looked on in stunned silence and after a moment we proceeded with the activity at hand.
Later that night, when I watched Dr. M’s recorded lectures, I listened more closely than usual, and I thought I caught a note of urgency in his delivery, even in these old recordings. He realized in a more acute way than any of our other professors, that we were the next generation of doctors, and that within a few short years, patients like his father would be placing their life in our hands. Perhaps he had long expected this fate for his father, or perhaps the condition snuck up on him much as it did for us. Either way, I think these lectures were not only a man’s mission to make the next generation better than the ones that came before, they were a son’s quest to make sure his father did not die in vain. Part of me wished he had held these lectures, but part of me rejects this as far too painful. His intention left its mark on me though, and I will never forget the things that man taught us.