March 7, 2007

Sir William Osler and Long Term Care

Posted in culture, science at 5:57 am by Jerry

Throughout my teenage years I grew up in a town named after Sir Edmund Boyd Osler. Osler is a good-looking town filled with young families, and just a 20 km drive north from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

I used to think my town was named after Sir Edmund’s brother – Sir William Osler (it was the only Osler name I heard of). That’s why I’m more familiar with Sir Will than Sir Ed. And I’m sure Ed was an interesting fellow, but I thought I’d take a closer look here at Billy boy…

Sir William was “a true Renaissance man — a physician, clinician, pathologist, teacher, diagnostician, bibliophile, historian, classicist, essayist, conversationalist, organizer, manager and author… His most famous work, The Principles and Practice of Medicine quickly became a bible to students and clinicians alike. It continued to be published in many editions until 2001 and was translated into many languages.” Check out the rest of his Wiki bio. Here’s an interesting part:

Osler insisted that his medical students get to the bedside early in their training; by their third year they were taking patient histories, performing physicals and doing lab tests examining secretions, blood and excreta instead of sitting in a lecture hall, dutifully taking notes. He diminished the role of didactic lectures and once said he hoped his tombstone would say only, “He brought medical students into the wards for bedside teaching.”

And who would’ve thought that such a well respected man was such a prankster? The distinguished Sir William is responsible for “fooling the editors of the Philadelphia Medical News with a report on the supposed phenomenon of penis captivus” (written under the pseudonym ‘Egerton Yorrick Davis’).

But of course, like everyone else, he had his own share of faults…

His speech (The Fixed Period), given on 22 February 1905, included some controversial words about old age. He claimed that, “the effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of twenty-five and forty” and beyond the age of 40 men were pretty much useless and after the age of 60, men were completely useless and should definitely be retired by age 60, if not by 40.

I work in a long term care facility. And I can tell you from first hand experience – nobody is completely useless. The residents I’ve had the privilege to assist always have something to offer back. Even when you’re sitting next to those few who have bed-ridden bodies, you have no choice but to receive something from their spirits or minds. Spend enough time with a resident and you will gain a deeper understanding of what they are capable of communicating.

Every resident responds differently to someone’s presence. And often, their response to anything I’ve said makes me wonder how many times in their past they’ve met people who talk like me or say some of the things I’ve just said to them.

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