So You Want To Be a Doctor

In my 1944 high school yearbook at Calvert Hall, under my picture there is written: "He plans to be a doctor." This was the first indication of a lifetime series of decisions during my climbing the "nuclear medicine" tree. At that time, Calvert Hall was in the heart of downtown Baltimore, across the street from the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and one block away from the Remington bookstore on Charles Street, that I would often visit. I still treasure a book that I purchased in 1944: "The Advancing Front of Medicine," by George W. Gray, published in 1941. He quoted Sophocles: "Only against death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes."

Gray concluded: "We are all indebted to research, and that means indebtedness to a small company of people, numbering only a few thousand, who have committed themselves to this kind of specialized activity." What would he think about today's NIH budget of over $25 billion. He quoted Paracelsus, who foresaw what today we call "molecular medicine." Paracelsus wrote: "The body is a conglomeration of chymical matters; when these are deranged illness results, and naught but chymical medicines may cure the same."

Outside of Calvert Hall was a parking lot, on which cars were parked, and also served as a handball court. The keys were left in these cars so they could be moved whenever a handball game was about to begin. I learned how to drive moving these cars off the court, but had to stop when my actions were discovered and the student council sentenced me to a week in "detention," an hour at the end of each school day. Detention was served in Room 205, next to the office of Brother E. James, the Principal.

During my second year of high school, on December 7, 1941, while having Sunday lunch at our kitchen table in Baltimore, we heard on the radio that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. My father often engaged in heated political discussions with his friends, listened to Fulton Lewis, Jr. and Father Coughlin on the radio, and couldn't stand Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt. He believed that President Roosevelt was leading us into war. When we heard the news of the bombing, he told us, sadly: "we are in the war now." The titanic struggle over the next four years would leave 60 million dead and reshape the map of the world. Germany had invaded Poland two years before, and Japan had moved brutally into China and French Indochina. Roosevelt had previously stopped shipments of scrap metal and oil to Japan, and sent 50 destroyers to England under the Lend-Lease Act.

We faithfully kept up with the news of the war in the newspapers and on the radio, and in newsreels at our Saturday afternoon movies. We were thrilled by the news on

April 18, 1942, that a small force of B-25 bombers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, had bombed Tokyo. This news was a great morale booster. We only learned later that every aircraft but one was lost, far different from what would be broadcast widely today. We went to the movies every Saturday afternoon, regardless of what picture was being shown. We always hoped we would like the picture, hoping at least that it would not be a "love picture." Movie theaters, neighborhoods, schools, and practically everything was segregated. Most often, we went to the Capital theatre, three blocks from our house in southwest Baltimore. Occasionally we went a few blocks further away to the Lord Baltimore and Horn theaters. On special occasions, we took the streetcar to a downtown movie theater. We saw the first full-length cartoon, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at the Hippodrome. Both the Hippodrome and State Theatres had live vaudeville shows between featured films. Other theaters that we attended were the Auditorium, Stanley, Valencia or Boulevard Theaters. Every week at the Capital theatre, we looked forward to seeing the new episode of serial short features, which we called "chapters." Often, the hero would be shown falling to the bottom of a cliff. The next week we would see him grabbing the top edge of the cliff, escaping his fall.

Once a week at Calvert Hall Country School (CHCS), we had a woodworking lesson in a room filled with carpenter's tools under the direction of "our big brother," Tom Mooney, who lived in a house near to the school, and simultaneously coached all the athletic teams and ran the cafeteria. His brother was a Christian Brother at Calvert Hall. We admired the varsity baseball team from downtown Calvert Hall High School when they came to Walbrook Oval to practice or play games against other city schools. CHCS was located in a large, formerly private house. Every Friday the Brothers awarded gold cards for excellence in schoolwork that week. These were cherished by the recipients, who proudly showed them to their parents. Brother Matthew, who taught the 7th and 8th grade, played the violin at the ceremonies of awarding the gold cards. My parents expected the Wagner boys to get gold cards every week.

After graduating from the 8th grade at CHCS, I went by street car to high school at Calvert Hall College (CHC), as it was called since the time of its founding. The Christian Brothers were excellent and dedicated teachers, participating in sports, such as handball in the school yard, as well as in coaching the athletic teams. We were extremely competitive, and always felt that we had to win, or, at least, to always do our best. We were constantly reminded of the rules of the game by both our parents, and coaches. My mother was President of the Parents' Club at Calvert Hall for several years, and a few of the Brothers became her life-long friends. We were fortunate that, even in the face of the depression, mother did not have to work outside of the house. Until her death when I was 11, Grandmother Wagner's presence in the house and dedication to her grandchildren played a major role in the evolution of our personalites and values.

Long after we had graduated, Calvert Hall moved to its present large modern facility in north Baltimore, with a large gymnasium and football stadium, and parking lots for students in the upper grades. The school now attracts boys of diverse backgrounds, black and white, who must wear coats and ties or athletic jackets when on campus. In the 1940s, we attended school on the corner of Cathedral and Mulberry Streets in downtown Baltimore. The original school building has been replaced by a modern building housing the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore. Ironically, when the original stone structure of Calvert Hall was torn down, the stones were used to construct a building on the grounds of arch rival, Loyola College, in north Baltimore. When Calvert Hall was still at the downtown site, we walked every afternoon during basketball season to Turnverein Vorwaerts, a large row house built at 723 W. Fayette Street by German-American gymnasts. The building housed a gym, a bowling alley, lockers, and showers. As the home team during basketball season, we had the advantage of knowing that one of the backboards would vibrate for a time after the ball hit it. We delayed the next shot until the vibrations had stopped.

The Chaplain of Calvert Hall was Father Louis Brianceau (Father Brie), a French-American Sulpician priest, who taught at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, the oldest seminary in the United States. There were 350 seminaries in those days, compared to 75 at present. Father Brie was also the Chaplain at the Spring Grove state mental hospital. When Father Brie was at Calvert Hall, he would stand at the school's entrance, greeting every boy by name as he entered the school. He would hear the confessions of the boys who wished to confess to him. Occasionally he would express disbelief that the boy who was confessing had actually committed the sin being confessed. We had to try to persuade him that: "Yes, we did." Sports, rather than girls, were our major interest. One boy confessed to Father Brie that he had committed ten sins, including two mortal and six venial, but none "original."

Every Sunday, he would travel by streetcar from St. Mary's Seminary, where he taught and lived, to Spring Grove. After services at the Hospital, he would be picked up by Gene Cochley, who would drive him to Calvert Hall, where he would celebrate benediction for the Calvert Hall Christian brothers. After Benediction at Calvert Hall on Sunday morning, he and several boys would travel by street car to a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, called "Spring Gardens," where he kept two boats in a boatyard adjacent to the Hanover Street bridge. One of the boats was a small open boat that he took out alone on Wednesdays, and the other a wooden cabin "cruiser" that he took out with a few invited boys and a hired Captain on Sundays, heading down the Bay past Stony Creek to a landing at the pier in front of Nick Burcher's restaurant on Rock Creek. We would have an ice cream sundae, and then head back up the Bay to the dock by the Hanover Street bridge, secure the boat, and catch a streetcar back to our homes.

We occasionally took cruises of a few days on Father Brie's boat. I still have fond images of the picturesque lighthouses that we passed as we motored down the Chesapeake Bay: Baltimore Light (1908, the last of 100 lighthouses built on 74 sites on the Bay); Seven Foot Knoll (1855, now moved to the Mariners' Museum in Norfolk, Virginia); Fort Carroll (1848); Sandy Point (1882); Thomas Point (1825), and Bloody Point (1882). We had spectacular views of one of the most picturesque bridges in the world: the Chesapeake Bay bridge built in 1952, changing the character of the Eastern Shore. Today, tens of thousands of people cross the Bay to the beaches at Ocean City, Maryland. (We acquired 17 acres of land and built a house in 1968 on the shore of the Chester River, 5 miles above Chestertown, Maryland, which had been settled in 1698 as a major port 35 miles from the entrance of the Chester River into the Bay. Near our house was an old wharf, which from 1840 to 1925, was frequented by steamboats regularly carring freight and passengers from Baltimore to Chestertown and beyond.)

Father Brie told us about an episode, where he, alone and dressed in a typical Frenchman's blue working clothes, fell overboard, and began calling out: "Save me. I'm a Catholic priest." Fortunately, there was another boat nearby, and he was rescued. Once during the war he was stopped by U.S. Coast Guardsmen, who discovered that he did not have the required fire extinguisher on board. The next time Father Brie went to Calvert Hall, he "borrowed" a fire extinguisher from the chapel wall, and headed down to the Hanover Street dock. With John Hartman, who subsequently became a Baltimore physician, Father Brie set out to find the Coast Guard boat in order to show the sailors that he now had a fire extinguisher. Reaching the vicinity of the Coast Guard boat, he asked John to fetch the fire extinguisher. John replied: "I'm sorry, Father, but I left it on the dock." Immediately, Father Brie instructed everyone to lie down in the bottom of the boat so that the Guardsmen would not see them. John said later that he thought this was unwise, because the Guardsmen would be attracted to a boat headed down the Bay with nobody in it. Father Brie subsequently told John that if anything like that happened again, he would no longer be invited back. Often, in those wartime days, the boat would be boarded by Coast Guardsmen with rifles to check us out.

We regularly motored past the Bethlehem Steel shipyards in Baltimore, which were turning out one Victory ship, a 10,000 ton freighter with a gun on the stern, every week. It was the arming of these boats that cut down the enormous losses by torpedos from German U-boats. Seventy-five percent of all the German U-boat crews lost their lives during the war.

Father Brie died on August 23, 1950, at the age of 75. As a Sulpician priest educated in France, he had emigrated to the United States in 1898 to join the faculty at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and taught there until his death.

My first date was taking a neighborhood policeman's daughter to the Calvert Hall senior prom. A week later, I delivered the Valedictorian address at the Calvert Hall high school graduation on June 6, 1944, at the Maryland Casualty auditorium. At that time, Calvert Hall did not have a large enough auditorium for the ceremony. My talk was entitled: "Four Corners, Four Freedoms," referring to the four buildings at the corner of Cathedral and Mulberry Streets: Calvert Hall, the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Baltimore Cathedral, and the Wentworth Apartments. The metaphor was that each represented one of the Four Freedoms.

The title referred to the famous "Four Freedoms" State of the Union speech delivered by President Roosevelt to Congress on January 6, 1941, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In his speech, he said: "We Americans are vitally concerned with your defense of freedom. We are putting forth our energies, our resources and our organizing powers to give you (the British) the strength to regain and maintain a free world. We shall send you in ever-increasing numbers, ships, planes, tanks, and guns. That is our purpose and our pledge.

"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech . . . The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way . . . The third is freedom from want . . . The fourth is freedom from fear."

The month we graduated from high school, on June 6, 1944, we learned that the Allied forces had landed on the beaches of Normandy in France, on the bloody road to victory. Nearly 10,000 soldiers died on the beaches, over 1,500 on Omaha beach in the bloodiest battle of the Normandy invasion.

The Germans surrendered on May 2, 1945, while I was a freshman at Johns Hopkins University, founded in 1876, the centennial year of our country. Shortly after the University was founded, the Johns Hopkins Hospital was created, and was to become a model for modern medical centers, changing medical education from proprietary training to a scientifically-based, university enterprise. The medical school emphasized research for both students and faculty, and was the first to introduce the residency system in the United States.

I had a scholarship to Johns Hopkins, having been selected by U.S. Congressman George Fallon, in whose district we lived, and who was known personally by my father. In July, a month after graduation from high school in 1944, I began my studies at Hopkins which at the time was operating what was called an "accelerated program." This meant that students could sign up for any courses they wished to take, the only requirement being prior approval by one's advisor. My advisor was a well-known geneticist, Carl Swanson, who never vetoed any of my choices. Unknown to me at the time, I finished two years work in my first year. I thought at the time: "College is much harder than I had expected." The study habits that this crowded schedule required made my subsequent transition to medical school much easier.

Professor Carl Bruning, who taught freshman chemistry at Hopkins, surprised us by giving us a written examination on the first day of classes. I don't know what he had in mind. Calvert Hall had prepared me well for college. My teacher of German at Calvert Hall, Brother Gideon Francis, who was also the basketball coach, was such an effective teacher that the Professor teaching me German at Hopkins asked me why I was ashamed to admit that my parents spoke German at home. They didn't. My grandmother never spoke German, made any references to Germany, or told us why she had left Germany.

At Hopkins, I played varsity football and basketball, only because so many competent young boys were away in the military service. Our football team played only one game, with the opponent being members of the ASTP (Army Student Training Program) at Hopkins. The final score was 0-0. In basketball, we played several "big name" teams, such as Haverford (9 letters in the name) and Hampton Sydney (13 letters in the name).

After the war ended, I was subject to the draft. Because of my experience with sailing on the Chesapeake, I had developed a love of the water, and so took the competitive examination to enter the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. I was accepted and, at the age of 18, left by train from Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore for New London, Connecticut. I was sworn in as a cadet with William Brandfass and Nicholas Ivanosky. "Whitey" Brandfass subsequently became an orthopedic surgeon, specializing in sports injuries. Nick became a helicopter pilot after graduation and retired as an Admiral in the Coast Guard after 20 years service. One of the members of our class of 1949, the year our class graduated, rose to become Commandant of the Coast Guard. I enjoyed my time at the Academy, especially the cruises on the square rigger, the Danmark; the ice breaker, Mackinac; and the cutter, Sebago.

On August 6, 1945, we learned of the atomic bombing of Japan. The Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber named after the mother of the pilot, Paul Tibbets, who had taken off from the Pacific island of Tinian, headed for the city of Hiroshima. The bomb, named Little Boy, exploded over the city with a force equal to 20,000 tons of TNT. 100,000 persons died. The world would never be quite the same. On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing 80,000 more Japanese. On August 15, the Japanese surrendered. Kyoto had been considered as a possible target, but was taken off the list because of its cultural and historic importance.

Figure 20 Varsity basketball team at Calvert Hall in 1944. HNW on left in second row.

At the completion of my first year and second summer at the Academy, I decided to resign for several reasons: (1) Everyone wore his status on his sleeve, and we were expected to defer to those of higher rank, and look down on those of lower rank; (2) After three days of intensive psychological testing of all the cadets, in my interview with a consulting psychologist, I was told that the testing showed that I would make a superb gunnery officer because of my ability to visualize objects with an accurate three-dimensional perspective. (Perhaps this was a predictor of my subsequent activities in imaging in medicine.) I didn't look forward to the life of a gunnery officer; and (3) I still had a latent desire to become a doctor. So I returned to Johns Hopkins University, and joined the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC), graduating as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve.

Among the Hopkins students in both undergraduate (males only at that time) and medical school were many veterans returning from World War II, studying under the GI Bill of Rights. They were serious students, eager to make up for lost time. The Beta Theta Pi fraternity became the focus of my social life. We went to dances at Hopkins and in various Baltimore hotels, including the Emerson with its Crystal Ballroom, the Belvedere with its Terrace, John Eager Howard Room, the Owl Bar, and two ballrooms on the top floor. Today, there is now a dancing school at the Belvedere with dinner dances every Wednesday night.

A sign of the times in the old days was when Captain Isaac Emerson, founder of the Bromo-Seltzer Company, was refused permission to take off his jacket on a hot day at the Belvedere Hotel. He got revenge by building the Emerson Hotel. Unescorted women could not be served in the bars of these Baltimore Hotels after 7:00 PM "lest chance acquaintances be formed." The striking Bromo-Seltzer Tower had a 37 foot replica of a blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle on its roof. We spent many evenings at the Peabody Book Store on Charles Street, which had tables in a back room and served beer and sandwiches. We "Betas" had a fraternity meeting serving beer on Thursday night. At times, the revery after the meetings would result in my missing some of my Friday classes. We had a party every Saturday night, and occasionally played golf at Bonnie View golf course. Our ambition was "to be able to live the way we were living."

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment