Summer Medicine - Out of Body Experience

It was the summer of 1957. I had completed my third year of medical school. A year from now I would be heading out to my internship. Time was pressing and these were the clinical years.

The Department of Medicine at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine offers an opportunity to continue patient contact during the summer months. I had loved the clinical application of what I had learned in the first two, non clinical years. The direct patient contact was stimulating as we were all challenged during “Rounds” where the Professor of Medicine such as Kenneth Crispell, Thomas Hunter (who also was the Dean of The Medical School) or “Silver Bill” William Parson would go from patient to patient accompanied by the Resident as well of 2 to 4 Medical Students. As a Medical Student on the wards in the University Hospital we would draw the blood, take urine and stool samples and occasionally sputum. We had a small student lab where we would do the lab work.

That room really stank especially when stool and urine samples were boiled as part of the examination of the sample. I had my own microscope. It was a binocular Zeiss. It was the microscope my father used in Medical School. Of course we made our own slides.

Of course we interviewed the patient for the Medical history. Then we examined the patient. All of which was written on the chart.

Each patient had a Differential Diagnosis and during the Rounds we had to defend our diagnoses.

It was enormous fun as it was challenging. Hunter had been crippled by Polio when he was a child and used arm, hand crutches. He was the kindest. Crispell was demanding and brilliant. Parson frightened all of us as he seemed to delight in asking virtually impossible questions during Rounds. He has nicknamed Silver Bill because his hair was a silver gray. There was a rumor that he had alopecia areata meaning patches of his hair that was missing and further rumor had it that he had plucked the hair out himself. I think it was just a nasty response to his impossible questions.

Well, they were not completely impossible. I watched him in the library and saw that he often read the Medical Journal, “Lancet”. I started to read it as well and found that his questions often came from an article in Lancet.

It was a typical summer in Charlottesville. That meant it was hot. The open wards were not air conditioned. There was good circulation of air from fans and open windows.

Many of our patients were very sick from a Klebsiella infection. There were deaths. If the patient did have Klebsiella septicemia it was almost certain he would die.

The Kelbsiella bacterium was dyed red under the microscope. Thus, it was gram negative. I saw that killer monster in my own microscope several times. My patients did not die as they would not have a septicemia which meant the bacterium had found the blood stream and the whole body was filled with the nasty bug.

If that happened they would go into “Gram negative shock” which meant the patient’s blood pressure would crash and death was virtually certain.

After a couple of weeks a Friday came around. That night I had a beer and was able to relax as we did not have Rounds on the weekend. However, we still had to take care of our patients. I distinctly remember that single beer.

The next morning I woke up and did not feel well. I was struck with intense nausea and I vomited. I almost never vomit. I knew I was getting sick. I was woozy. I knew I had a fever.

I called Dr. Crispell and the conversation was exactly as follows; ”Doctor Crispell do you take private patients?”

His answer was: “Where do you live?”

I told him and he said: “I’ll be right there.”

About 5 minutes later he was at the front door. When I opened the door I started to have sever chills that made my teeth clatter together. I was amused as I had read about this condition and was amazed that such a thing really happened.