This is a transcript of a brief talk Dr. Colin Knight gave at the end of his fellowship in 2007. All graduating chiefs and fellows were to speak about their “most memorable case.” Some gave academic presentations, Dr. Knight’s was more personal. Here is part one of the talk.
I saw a corpse for the first time 30 [40 now] years ago this summer. I had arrived in Lagos, Nigeria with my family to begin a one-year stay as our driver navigated north to the the university where my father would assume a teaching post for the year. It was by the side of the road bloated and covered with flies. My mother tried to divert my attention but she must have failed since I can now recall the incident three [four] decades later. Sixteen years later I saw a corpse for the second time [As I wrote this ten years ago, I neglected to remember or acknowledge the cadavers we had in medical school].
My medical school, an enthusiastic supporter of the push in the late twentieth century to encourage medical students to go into primary care, had every student spend a week with a community doctor. My assignment was to the rural office of a solo practitioner in the Northern Neck of Virginia. This lovely peninsula on the Chesapeake Bay between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers was dominated by farmers and waterman and it was to an elderly farmer’s house we were called one evening. The farmer’s wife was cooking supper while the farmer napped in the sitting room and he now wouldn’t wake up. She feared he was dead. We drove to their house on our way home from the office.
The classic four over four looked upon the bay where the sun illuminated it as it set. After greeting the farmer’s wife, we proceeded to the parlor where the farmer was spotlighted by the sun streaming through the blinds. His feet rested on an ottoman and his hands were folded on his belly. Dr. Lewis [my mentor for the week] had me listen to the farmer’s chest and feel for a pulse. It was absent. The farmer was dead.
While I comforted his wife, Dr. Lewis called the undertaker to take the farmer away. The three of us settled into the kitchen where fresh baked bread lay cooling and rabbit stew simmered on the stove. The farmer’s wife looked at the food and said, “it would be such a shame for all this good food to go to waste.” We quickly agreed and the three of us sat down to eat while we waited for the undertaker. Not all of my memories deal with death.