I borrowed the above title from a quotation cited by one of this year’s top doctors; mostly because I love big, useful and obscure words, but it also sums up so much in this issue
It was excerpted from a speech by Sir William Osler, one of the most influential (and quotable) physicians of North American history (he was Canadian). Latin roots of the word translate as “calm soul” and loosely defined it means “imperturbability.”
The word reminds me a bit of Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage as “grace under pressure.” It’s the kind of courage that enables doctors to comfort and repair people during their worst days. It’s that kind of steadiness that doctors offer as they deliver most of us into the world in the first place.
And physicians were even there to offer some aequanimitas during a different kind of birth — the birth of our nation. Much has been written about the personal risk endured by the men and women who argued and fought for American independence. Along with a herd of lawyers and a gaggle of landholders and entrepreneurs, three of our founding fathers, the signatories on our Declaration of Independence, were doctors. Two of those doctors came from New Hampshire.
Most folks have heard of Matthew Thornton — if not specifically about the Colonial-era physician, then at least they’ve heard of the health plan named after him. Thornton’s home in Derry is a National Historic Landmark.
So is another house in nearby Kingston, where Dr. Josiah Bartlett began his medical practice in 1750. The political stresses that led up to our Revolution were already being felt then, but Bartlett chose to take a role in the revolutionary Provincial Assembly. At one point, his home was burned to the ground, presumably by Tories who were aligned with the British Crown. Undaunted, Bartlett was the first member of the Continental Congress to answer in the affirmative to the question of declaring independence.
Bartlett’s devotion to the cause was demonstrated even more clearly when he followed General John Stark’s forces to the Battle of Bennington to offer his medical skills under the unique pressures of wartime.
Not every doctor is called upon or even able to serve humanity on a battlefield, but the stress and suffering that takes place in the emergency departments of virtually every major hospital certainly provide occasions where a touch of imperturbability is an asset. Our story on New Hampshire emergency rooms explores some places where doctors and nurses are swept up every day into the action and pathos we might associate with a MASH unit.
Meanwhile, another kind of battle rages as healthcare policy undergoes an upheaval with a new presidential administration reassessing the fundamentals of how people access and pay for medical treatments.
Good to know that as the new declarations and constitutions are being written for medical and insurance policies, there are at least a few doctors on hand in Congress. Who better to offer prescriptions and insights to ensure the healthiest course ahead?
I should confess that doctors and hospitals have been on my mind recently, not just because of this issue. By the time you read this, I’ll be a first-time grandfather. I hear it’s a particularly rewarding experience. It will no doubt require a lot more courage from my daughter Eleanor, but she was born with a calm soul. Besides, much like doctoring, motherhood is really all about grace under pressure.