Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Flashes from the Past: "The worst speller in the class..."

From a letter home,

"You and Father both got into me last week for spelling wrong. I am might glad you did for thats the best way to learn and I don't blame you a bit for I used to be noted for being about the worst speller in the Grammar School class. Father says I ought to keep a dictionary beside me all the time but its the words I ought to know, and supposed I do know, that I misspell. I remember the last summer up to the lakes I got a letter in which you said I had been spelling "sure" shure all summer..."

This young man's education was also influenced by an intellectual movement at that time that urged training in manual dexterity as an important part of intellectual training for boys. The boys were taught carpentry, wood-turning, forge, bent metal work, mechanical drawing and machinery.

He would later recall this very formative in his life- "We embryo carpenters progressed to a course of wood-turning with lates and a year later to metal work at a forge--like so many blacksmiths learning to strike when the iron was hot--the best possible cure for youthful indecision."

As a student he was known to be a keen observer and liked to draw (not unlike many other gifted dyslexics). From a letter to his parents from college:

Or from the scientific laboratory:

Who was this?

This was that remarkable pioneering neurosurgeon who rightly won the title of "Neurosurgeon of the Century", Harvey Cushing. His new techniques and skills reduced the rate of mortality for brain surgery from 90% to less than 10%, and he was an exceptional teacher as well. Students from around the globe came to study with him.

He apparently recommended to students to think about drawing more rather than taking notes, and he often made it a practice to make sketches of his operations from the surgical perspective. He was an incredible worker and spatial genius. He also wrote a definitive biography on Sir William Osler.

Some favorite Cushing (yes, the Cushing of Cushing's disease) quotes:

From the young Cushing-

"The hospital is a very sloppy place and the work of everyone most unsystematic, i.e. on the surgical side. Dr. Hallsted has only operated once this month and rarely appears. Hope things clear out or I can't stand it".

Or later...

"A physician is obligated to consider more than a diseased organ, more even than the whole man - he must view the man in his world."

Harvey Cushing may have been a chip off the old block. It was recalled of his father (another physician), "He preferred to try to find out a thing by observation, when opportunity offered, rather than by asking". Henry Kirke Cushing was also a tinkerer in the family, mending locks, leaky faucets, clocks, or rebinding books.

Harvey Cushing
Cushing Biography Online
Harvey Cushing - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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