Monday, November 19, 2007

Meeting Dr. Penfield

From the time I was a child, until I hit 16 I wanted to be a medical doctor(and a geologist and archaeologist for a time). I read everything I could about doctors and nurses and anything medical. By the time I was 10 I had read my mother's St. John Ambulance First Aid book so many times I could have delivered a baby on my own. I started Grade 5 at Wilder Penfield Elementary School in Montreal and was then enamored with brain surgery.

Dr. Penfield would pay the school an ocassional visit and we would have school assemblies on those days. The first one I attended, I was first out the classroom door and running to the gym to sit at the man's feet on the gym floor.
There was a single chair at the head of the gym and I was right there, sitting cross-legged in front of that chair. I honestly didn't understand why there wasn't a stampede to get to what I thought would be the best seat in the house.
Oh my God, there he was...the greatest brain surgeon in the history of the world. He reminded me of my grandfather. And I was fascinated with his stories about being a medical student and in particular the stories he told about studying monkeys' behaviour. He really seemed to relish this chance to have kids gathered around and to entertain them. More so now did he remind me of my grandfather.

But I was also disappointed. He told us nothing of his pioneering surgeries, his poking and prodding of peoples' brains, or even his days during the Great War. I hoped he would have more to tell on his next visit.

Of course, he didn't. Not for elementary aged students. Two years after that first assembly, Dr. Penfield passed away. We were living in Newfoundland by that time and I recall reading the paper days after he died. I felt a profound sadness that I would never learn the things he learned about the human brain.

My mother, at the time, was taking some classes at Memorial University. When she wasn't studying, I would pour over her psychology texts. How fascinating! And by the time I was 16, the drive to become a doctor had waned, though my interest in anything medical continued. When I first started university (St. F. X.), I was thinking about marine biology as a future, but after a year of psychology, I was hooked on that.

Despite working in radio, I have maintained my interests in psychology and medicine (and geology and archaeology). Good thing, too. After a diagnosis of MS, you almost need an MD to decipher the information out there about this disease.


No comments: