I work at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. We call it The Brigham. A month ago we were subjected to a tragic murder of one of our doctors. The winter has been brutal and unrelenting. Then, as I was walking to work the other day I was struck by a ray of light.
It was 7:30 AM and the morning light shone directly into what was the original main operating room of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, one of the parent institutions of what we now know as The Brigham. Peter Bent Brigham was a restaurateur who left an endowment for a hospital for the poor. It was decided to site the Peter Bent Brigham in the Longwood area just behind the Harvard Medical School which had moved to this location in 1904.
After a national search, Harvey Cushing was selected to be the founding Surgeon-in-Chief. Cushing, a native of Cleveland and graduate of Yale College and Harvard Medical School, had trained in surgery at the The Johns Hopkins Hospital and was in the process of creating the modern field of neurosurgery. Between 1910 and 1913, Cushing worked with the architects of the new hospital and sited the operating room such that the morning sun would shine into its large window, thereby allowing the surgeons to see well with natural light.
Brain surgery had up to that time been performed by general surgeons with largely poor results. Cushing created this new field of safe and effective brain surgery.
For the next twenty years, he performed thousands of brain operations in that very operating room and trained virtually everyone who was to carry the field forward after him. It is said that kids would climb into the trees on Shattuck Street, between Harvard Medical School and The Brigham, to watch Dr. Cushing perform brain surgery. All of these thoughts came to mind as I witnessed the ray of light illuminating the old Brigham. I realized again why I am a doctor and what these pioneers did in this very spot almost exactly a century ago. If only my own contributions could only be 1% of what they accomplished I would be very fortunate. I was struck by how lucky I was, also a Clevelander, to be here in Boston to serve the sick and the poor. Soon the winter will be over, but every day the light will shine into Cushing’s operating room, inspiring all of us.
The author is a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Samuels, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I feel doctors and those in the medical field are blessed people.
I came upon your post while Googling Dr. Harvey Cushing. Dr. Cushing operated on my mother at the Brigham when she was in her late teens/early 20s. She told us he never charged her family. He saved her life. She went on to have five children and lived to be 85.
The only neuro-surgery she had after that was in the ’70s. She had a question about air pressure while flying. Dr. Cantou at Emerson Hospital took X-Rays of her head and told her a section of her skull was missing. Of course, she was totally aware of this. He was amazed she had gone through her life with no protection to her brain but was in awe Dr. Cushing had operated on her. Dr. Cantou scheduled her for surgery, placed a “plate” in her head, and after she recovered, she went flying.
Doctors are so blessed. . . What gifts you have been given to give to others.
Nice piece, Dr. Samuels. On the shoulder of giants.
Very well put.
It is always good to remember why we are here, and who has gone before.
A powerful post Marty. Thank you for writing this.