Lesson Learned (April 28)

Biology teacher extraordinaire Beth Darnell inspired me tremendously when I had the good fortune to be one of her students in the crowning year of her long professional career. From glowing praise by my mother, Lois Ruth Flanagan Almond, who student-taught Biology under Miss Darnell during the early days of World War II, I entered the 10th-grade biology class in 1963 with great expectations. From my father Harold David Almond, MD, I learned a $64 phrase applying to biology that he suggested I use in fun: “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny.”

“Miss Beth,” as we fondly nicknamed her, enjoyed my answer to the question of the history of the development of an embryo to a fetus to a baby when I could repeat Dad’s coached phrase. She suggested, though, we would dissect a frog that year that may clarify that answer; nevertheless, she suggested, I should check out with my Doctor Dad a clinical way humans replay development.

Mom and Dad felt the game was on, so they obliged by sending a note to B-U High School asking for me to be excused from class the next day, as I would be assisting with surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Boy, was I excited!

Dr. Basil Page welcomed me into the surgical suite, showing me how to scrub in on his procedure to correct a cleft lip in a baby. He explained that the baby did not complete the embryological development of bringing the roof of the mouth and the lips together. With great skill, he planned to complete the connection, creating a new upper lip through plastic surgery as well.

Dr. Jake Huffman showed me how he would apply ether drop by drop on a cloth that he would skillfully apply to the baby’s nose, keeping him asleep as well as preventing him from experiencing pain.

Since my first surgery was scheduled for Doctor’s Day, March 30, Dad gave me a history lesson about the establishment of this auspicious day.

The purpose is to recognize and celebrate physicians and the services they provide. The idea originated with Eudora Brown Almond, wife of Dr. Charles B Almond. Dad said we are not related but maybe are kissing cousins. The first Doctor’s Day was celebrated on March 30, 1933, in Winder, Georgia. That date was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the first time that general anesthesia was used in surgery. In 1842, Dr. Crawford Williamson Long operated on a patient to remove a cyst on the neck. During that time period, members of high society commonly inhaled nitrous oxide (laughing gas) at parties known as frolics. These parties would sometimes become rowdy, and the party-goers would sustain minor injuries. Dr. Long noticed that when this happened to people under the influence of the nitrous oxide, they did not notice the pain. Thus, the theory that gas could be used as an anesthetic during surgery was born.

So back to the cleft lip surgery. Soon it began, and all initially went well. Then I began to focus on how tiny the baby looked and how I might feel if Dr. Page was correcting my lip. The ether smell became more powerful. Suddenly I found myself feeling sweaty and lightheaded. Grasping a stool to break my fall, while breaking surgical procedure, I collapsed fainting clean away.

Oh, my!

When I came to, the surgery had been successfully completed. Dr. Page was gracious in telling me he fainted on his first surgery watching his own father operate. Dad told me that I was tenderhearted, which would make me a good doctor. Likewise, Dr. Huffman recalled how he too had fainted at the sight of blood when he first started studying medicine.

The next day at school, Miss Darnell asked me to give an oral report to my biology class on what I had learned about “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” My classmates were entertained by my tale, laughing but supportive. Miss Darnell said I earned an A+ for extra effort. I then felt pleased, deciding to become a physician someday so I could use $64 words but without fainting.


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