“Good morning, Professor.”
|Lake Kremasta, Greece. Photo by author.
The elderly man I address by this title lies in bed, visibly weak and rather exhausted, a clean white sheet drawn up to his neck. He has been in the hospital for several days now, and the forced immobility has added its toll to the medical problems he has accumulated with the years. He turns his head to look at a visitor he does not recognize. I do not keep him in the dark.
“I am Dr. P., and I am a pulmonologist. I used to be your student back in 1978. I saw your name in the patient list and called to see how you are after all this time.”
His face breaks into a nostalgic half-smile as he slowly extends his hand to me. I can see him turning the pages of his memory back to those long-gone days. I am doing the same, and recall myself sitting in the main auditorium of the medical school, listening to his lectures on medical statistics and epidemiology. He used to interpret for us, in his ever gentle and polite manner, the peaks and troughs of population curves, correlating them with world events such as wars, famines, and epidemics. I was fascinated by the associations between these global phenomena. What would such curves look like today? I hope that his successors in the university have the same zeal for their work and try to impart it to their current students.
I pull myself back to the present. “You have been here for some time now,” I say, to get him talking about himself.
He responds with a brief, rather tired but lucid enough history of his symptoms and infirmities. He does not have a specific diagnosis. All he wants now is to go home, the most appropriate place of rest, physical and mental, for a person of his age. He in turn asks about my work, my family. He does not know me personally—there were too many of us in those days; he simply reciprocates my interest in his condition and welfare. I am sure he would do the same with anybody else approaching him in this manner.
In the course of my medical life, I have had the opportunity, indeed the privilege, to meet and care for many previous acquaintances: old classmates, friends, neighbors, past schoolteachers and university professors. All these reunions have been sources of mutual pleasure and satisfaction, often a surprise for both parties. Especially so for elderly folks, who often feel that they have been banished from the mainstream of life, practically forgotten. This particular meeting is no exception.
Our brief exchange comes to an end. I have to move on. Again, he offers his hand and smiles broadly. “Thank you for remembering me after all these years,” he says, and I can sense tears welling up behind his wrinkled eyelids. Once a professor, always a professor, I muse as I close the room door behind me.
ANTHONY PAPAGIANNIS is a practicing pulmonologist in Thessaloniki, Greece. He graduated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School. He trained in Internal Medicine in Greece and subsequently in the United Kingdom, and specialized in Pulmonary Medicine. He holds a postgraduate Diploma in Palliative Medicine from the University of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, and is a postgraduate instructor in palliative medicine in the University of Thessaly, Larissa, Greece. He also edits the journal of the Thessaloniki Medical Association, and blogs regularly.