My Mentor, Minnesota Med School Class of 1954-5

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I don’t know why I was admitted to the U Minnesota Medical School one month after turning 19, without a particularly impressive undergraduate record. In large part I attribute it to my friend who mentored me in High School and Pre Med. He is the friend I have known and loved longest; all my prior friendships had been fleeting; that is a downside of being raised in mining towns all over the world, which has distinct and unique advantages, but long-lasting childhood friendships don’t happen. We met in High School when we both were moved to Minneapolis in a Minnesota cold mid sophomore January 1946; despite time distance, and different roads travelled, we have been close friends ever since.

During pre med years it was his suggestion to take engineering physics and chemistry rather than pre med classes, because Med School acceptance was unlikely; there were many highly qualified applicants, among them those with real life experience, like marriage, work, or serving in WWII; they were far more mature by any measure, than we. Yet we both were accepted in the Fall of 1951. The U of M Medical School apparently saw something in us. He was a better scholar than I, but they also saw something in me that I did not. From my point of view it was a great leap of faith on their part.

However, I was only a child who didn’t know who or what and where he was. My needs, as I saw them, were social, and economic rather than intellectual. I had to pay my own way, by working part-time, and migrating to California in Summers to do farm work. I was able to work for room and board at a Fraternity; in those days that was possible. My brothers often carried me. I was welcomed, and participated socially, fully enjoying those relationships while trying to appear grownup; but all that was at the cost of academic excellence. I graduated near the bottom of my class while my friend and mentor was near the top. Looking back, I regret not being a devoted and excellent student, but did what was most urgent for me to do.

While my mentor is well-known in Minnesota medical politics and in business circles, a permanent and significant part of the community, I am a generalist and soloist in every sense of the words.That is as true in medicine as in my life itself.  My MD degree has been a passport to places, people, languages, and human experience what is sometimes called the private practice of public health. My CV seems more remarkable for its breadth, rather than its depth. After 60 years of medical practice we both, my friend and I, remain active in retirement; he in business and medical politics, while I consult, mentor, volunteer, read, write, and blog. In mid 9th decade we are in fairly good health, and may need to continue for a few years more.

I have few regrets. I doubt my mentor does either. And yet I would have liked to also have had an adult physician mentor during med school. I had no ongoing personal interchange with any particular faculty; academic medicine is a demanding master– or mistress, to be more politically proper. I believe it would be ideal if all med students had a physician mentor, someone they talk or meet with regularly to discuss the life of physicians and students; perhaps a mentor who is a blood and guts doc in private practice, whether group or solo, with a volunteer clinical appointment under the aegis of a Medical School. 1 I my case, however, my mentor is still with me. Our lives as physicians have been quite different, reflecting our natures; and yet we have traveled separate roads, and the same road, together. In the words of Robert Frost, ‘that has made all the difference.’

1 As an aside, physicians are not the only people in medicine; medical people are increasingly interdependent. I find that undergrad students who are interested some aspect of medicine benefit greatly from an association with the School of Medicine in general, and with physicians in particular. As a preceptor for student free Saturday morning clinics, I find pre med and other medical undergrad students are the muscle, heart, soul, and guts of the clinics, which are not easy to fund, organize, and operate; such clinics simply would not happen without enthusiastic active undergrad students. No one else has the time, motivation, and enough fire in the belly.


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Yo le digo tío-,

I call him uncle

Lo digo pa’ joder.

Just to piss him off.

Yo era forastero, solitario,

I was a stranger, alone,

Un poco amargado, resentido-

Quite bitter, resentful.

Pero me trató con sencillez,

But he treated me with openness,

Con cariño como si fuera digno de respeto,

And affection as if I merited respect.

Como si no hubiera cagado mi vida.

As if I hadn’t fucked up my life.

Cuando no soñaba, él me alimentó con sueños suyos.

When I couldn’t dream he fed me his own

Sueños Gonzalez, raros, bellos,

Gonzalez dreams, strange, and beautiful,

Con vitaminas de locura.

With vitamins of insanity.

Todavía  sueño con la vida más que la muerte,

I still dream of life more than death.

Puedo dar y recibir, soy sano, fuerte.

Can give, receive, am whole, strong.

Y todavía le digo tío,

And still I call him Uncle,

Porque no tengo nombre suficientemente grande,

For there’s no word great enough,

Ni profundo, ni ancho,

Or deep enough or wide,

Para este hombre que le digo tío,

For this man I call Uncle,

Aunque no es tío mío.

Who is no uncle of mine.

A few years later Tío got prostate cancer and I advised no aggressive treatment. Eight years after a dense stroke, he is  alert, diapered, and walks with difficulty, preferring to be wheeled about; he loves his bed. He still radiates good cheer, but sometimes in a moment of weakness confesses an ineffable  sadness.  After the dreaded  cancer diagnosis,  I had promised to interfere personally if he ever requested it. He has never asked.  Neither have I;  and the dreaded cancer has never spoken a word.