Teachers are very special people. They not only share knowledge in their field, but also, along with your family and faith community, create your value system, which lasts a lifetime.

I had the great honor and privilege of counting seven of my high school teachers among my surgical patients. Those who taught me English, French, Latin ( “All Gaul is divided into three parts …” ), history, math, physics and chemistry came to me with a variety of medical problems, some minor, some very major. Fortunately, all had a good result. Each was memorable for me in special ways. Two stand out.

Miss H. was the head of the English department. A tall, imposing woman, whom students gave a wide berth as she strode purposely down the corridors, was known to all. She recruited – no, told me, I was to play the role of Mr. Rochester, the male lead, in our senior class play, “Jane Eyre.” Through many rehearsals, as the director, she was able to coach, cajole, coax and create a pretty good ultimate performance. My rehearsals became quite tolerable when we got to the scene when I got to kiss the attractive heroine. Miss H. knew I did not mind any repeat rehearsal. “That is not the kind of kiss for this play!” At the last curtain, she could be seen sporting a huge smile backstage. I suspect it was more of relief than satisfaction.

Years later, she came to my office with a life-threatening malignancy. Luckily, we were able to excise it and she went on to live many years. On her last post-op visit, she invited me to her home as she had something she wished to give to my young family.

She lived on Spring Street in Westbrook, in a lovely house in which she had been born and lived all her life as a maiden lady. She presented me with her very own doll, her childhood and lifetime friend. It was obviously one of her most cherished possessions. To this day, the doll, and Miss H., smile down on all who enter that room in my house.

Mr. B. was my chemistry teacher. A neat and precise man, he always wore a three-piece vested suit, even under his lab coat. He wore two large hearing aids, neither of which seemed to work very well.

A few years after I began my surgical practice, he came to my office late on a Friday afternoon. He was seriously ill with what turned out to be a diffuse peritonitis due to a perforated intestine. We operated on him later that evening with what was a multi-staged procedure over several weeks that restored his good health

On his last visit before discharge, I said to him, “Mr B.,” – for one never called any teacher by their first name – “I am curious. Why did you select me for your surgeon when there were several other more senior than I in our community?”

He replied, “Robert” – for I was forever first and foremost his student, not just his surgeon – “I remember that you could derive the Henderson-Hasselbalch chemical equation better than any student I ever had, so you must be a good doctor!”


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