The passing of poet and humanitarian Maya Angelou, a 50th high school reunion, Memorial Day, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a eulogy to the Unknown Psychiatrist. . .
"You are the best we are, and the best we can hope to be."
-Maya Angelou, from her 1997 Keynote Address to the American Counseling Association annual conference
The recent Memorial Day had me thinking even more than usual about memorials. Perhaps I was primed by the death of the well-known poet and humanitarian Maya Angelou on May 28th, just before the Memorial Day weekend. I don't know whether she ever had any psychotherapy or counseling, but she sure was a model of resilience, was she not?
You'll Know What to Say
Another primer was that I had surprisingly been asked to give the memorial eulogy at the dinner dance of my 50th year high school reunion for classmates who had passed away.
Why me, I asked, hesitating? Isn’t there a clergy member from our class who is used to doing this?
The answer: "You're a psychiatrist and you'll know what to say."
That sealed the deal immediately. To me, it was about the nicest compliment I ever received about being a psychiatrist. Don't we all wish we “know what to say,” whether with patients or anyone?
Even if they thought I knew what to say, as time went on, there was some debate among the organizers about whether it would be best just to say the classmates’ names or to do something more. We didn’t want to make the eulogy too sad. . . we hoped it would be (and it turned out to be) a joyous occasion. Such a consideration reminded me of the listing of names (now posted only online at that) of members of the American Psychiatric Association who had passed away. That sort of listing felt fairly meaningless to me, especially since I didn’t even know who most of these psychiatrists were. So 2 years ago, I began an annual series of eulogy-based blogs for those psychiatrists whom I did know and who had inspired me. That way, I could at least tell our readers more about those I knew, even if my list was selective.
I therefore pushed for and decided to not only say the names of my deceased high school classmates, but to add their nickname and/or activity from our high school yearbook. That would be prefaced by my wife singing the bittersweet hit song from the hit movie, The Way We Were. The feedback ended up to be quite positive afterwards, especially from the teachers present. What became most obvious to all of us classmates was how important each of us was to each other. Some had a butterfly-like effect, whereby a monarch butterfly flapping its wings in Mexico has an effect (albeit minuscule) on the weather in China. Other popular classmates had a big ripple effect.
So it is with psychiatrists, I think. In my eulogies to psychiatrists who had inspired me, I had been concentrating on the more popular and well-known physicians that I-and probably many other psychiatrists-knew. For some reason, this past year there were fewer well-known psychiatrists to me. This change made me wonder more about the everyday private practice psychiatrists that were likely mainly known by their patients. Could I find out something about some of them to share? Certainly, each of them had at least a butterfly effect on our field, if not a ripple effect on their patients.
Therefore, I spent some of the Memorial Day weekend trying to look up the obituaries from the APA's In Memoriam list whom I didn't know. From my preparation for my high school eulogy, I knew this would not be easy: even with a sophisticated computer search, we still couldn't locate about a quarter of our classmates.
In doing so, given that it was Memorial Day, I was reminded not only of the classmates I didn't know 50 years ago, but of the “Unknown Soldier.” Following World War I, a single tomb, which contained the body of one of a multitude of unidentifiable soldiers, was built for Arlington National Cemetery. This Unknown Soldier was dedicated to all those in the armed forces killed in any war.
In essence, the following is my Eulogy to "Unknown" Psychiatrists. Given their numbers, I'll cover a shorter period of time in this blog.
Farewell "Unknown" Psychiatrists
Emanuel Amato, MD, who came to this country from Sicily at the age of 31, with little money and little ability to speak English, went on to a long career at several hospitals in Buffalo.
Dorothy "Jean" Arnold, MD, was apparently the first female psychiatrist to open a private practice in Iowa back in 1957. On retirement, she published 2 books of poetry.
William Callahan, MD, who had just left his private practice in California to join the State Department as a Regional Medical Officer in Ghana, died suddenly in South Africa 1 day after singing and dancing at the Mandela Memorial in Cape Town.
Arthur B. Carfagni, MD, was a director of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco, and had a private practice that included much pro bono care. A favorite quote of his was said to be:
There is a destiny that makes us brothers;
None goes his way alone:
All that we send into the lives of others
Comes back into our own.Richard A. Crocco, MD, worked in private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs, and later as an addiction psychiatrist for the VA.
Stanley Kern, MD, was a forensic psychiatrist for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, and also had a private practice.
Mary E. Mercer, MD, treated the writer Carson McCullers, and later wrote The Art of Becoming Human in 2002.
Edgar Allan Moser, MD, was said to have a successful private practice in Denver.
Denise Taft Callister Quinn, MD, engaged in private practice and was on the faculty of the University of Utah School of Medicine. Her philosophy of life: to swing a mean golf club, swim like a dolphin, learn something new every day, and "leave every person you have contact with, in a better place than they were before you met."
Marilyn L. Renfield, MD, centered her career as a pediatrician and psychiatrist with the Virginia Pediatric Group in Fairfax, Virginia.
Noah Richardson, MD, died at age 41, right before he was planning to open his own private practice in the Atlanta area.
Syng P. Seo, MD, attempted retirement, but after only 4 days, returned to work, saying "I will work until I die."
Charles D. "Dick" Wallace Sr, MD, maintained a private practice in Raleigh, NC, while also serving in various roles in the community.
Sheldon Wolfe, MD, practiced psychiatry and psychoanalysis until his retirement in 2006. Outside of work, he loved to sing with the Berkeley Community Chorus.
Of course, there were some better know psychiatrists who also were reported to have died during this period. They included: Robert Butler, MD, Arnold M. Cooper, MD, Ellen Cook "Cookie" Jacobsen, MD, William W. Meissner, MD, and Daniel Offer, MD.
Then, just this past week, the well-known psychiatrists David McDowell, MD, and Paul J. Fink, MD, passed away. It is easy to find out more about them if you are interested, and perhaps I will get back to them next time. But it is these other examples of the "unknown" psychiatrist that represent the essence of psychiatry.
We'll Know What to Say
I hope these psychiatrists knew what to say. Yes, first we have to listen well to know what to say. Listening is necessary but not sufficient for the practice of psychiatry. Perhaps in psychiatry, with the increasing emphasis on medication, knowing what to say, as in the exquisite psychoanalytic psychotherapy interpretations, is becoming more of a lost art.
But don't we have to know what to say to a patient about a diagnosis? Don't we have to know what to say to explain a medication's therapeutic and side effects? Don't we have to know what to say to accurately convey our empathy?
Maybe we even have to know what to say at eulogies. That may be what Maya Angelou was referring to when she said "you are ... the best we can hope to be." If we ideally know what to say, and model that for others as much as we can, including publicly, can't we help everybody to be the best everybody can be?
[Note from the author: This blog's celebration of the common, "unknown" psychiatrist has a powerful and well-known parallel in music. The American composer Aaron Copland's brief piece, Fanfare For the Common Man, is played at so many occasions celebrating the common American. The composer Joan Tower later sort of followed the Biblical precedent of Eve following Adam, by writing Fanfare For the Uncommon Woman. To be sure this common "man" (the author) is not perceived as sexist, we include links to two performances of these uncommon compositions for your additional pleasure.]