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The Human Touch

May 6, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

With the play, “Men In White” as a jumping off place, I wrote a piece a short time ago to the effect that a doctor’s life is not a happy one; at least, if he has a life it isn’t supposed to be his own, and if it is his own, it can’t be very happy at that, since that means that neither his waking nor sleeping hours are intruded upon by exigent callers, or by frantic telephone calls concerning abnormal conditions of various intimate parts of the human body.

I had an unexpected illustration the other evening concerning the lack of private life of doctors. A physician friend who has what seems to me an abnormal interest in abnormal mental and psychic states persuaded me to attend a lecture on schizo-phrenia at the New York Academy of Medicine, by a very learned gentleman named Dr. Campbell, of the Harvard Medical School, I believe, or of some other institution no less grave and learned.

It was a very good lecture, but it’s not about the lecture I’m going to tell you. On each of the granite, or concrete, walls flanking the stage, or rostrum, or dais, from which the speaker was reading his scholarly paper I observed an oblong slit which had been cut out of the concrete, or granite, and covered with what looked like glass. And every now and then a light would be flashed in each of them and a name would appear. It was not until I had observed a member of the audience rise and leave the room that I realized the function of those lighted oblongs in the masonry. Even when a physician wants to improve his mind with a lecture on schizophrenia, his office or his home may intrude and call him back to stern, unyielding duty. In every room in the Academy, I learned, there is a similar device for calling physicians to their patients in time of need or stress.

Incidentally that lecture hall would have been a first-rate place to become ill in. Or do you suppose it is likely the patient would have suffered from too much attention? The young wife of a young physician informs me that some years ago, in a convention in Chicago, such a situation occurred. There was a gathering of physicians, in the middle of which a visitor fainted, and her companion in a great fright, shouted: “Is there a doctor in the house?” There were, according to conservative count, five hundred of them.

Lawyers and members of other trades and professions and vocations are not being boycotted in this column. I shall be glad to print in The Human Touch stories representing every legal trade and profession. But tell me the stories!


I Met the other day a man I had not seen in years, one who had won a reputation as a violent radical in his youth and was maintaining it during his middle years. You would have no trouble recalling him were I to give you his name, which I prefer not to do. He was never known to be a nifty dresser, so that I didn’t consider it odd that he seemed to have a several days’ growth of beard. But he had always been clean-shaven and I hesitated to say anything about what seemed to be his determination to grow a beard. Then he told me that his mother had just died, and I expressed my condolences, and we parted, I to walk South, he, North.

I hadn’t gone more than ten paces when the explanation suddenly struck me. That several days’ growth of beard was a concession to the faith of his fathers, a faith which in other times he had taken no trouble to observe. He wasn’t sitting in his socked feet among the mourners, as age-old custom prescribed, but this concession he did make. Even he, this noted radical, had to acknowledge, at least once in his life and by inference, that he, too, was a Jew.


Someone I know, a lady, has been trying to borrow a German book, one of those works which is “required reading” in her collegiate course. She had asked among friends, she had inquired at the local neighborhood library. That book was not to be had. So, in despair, she said to me the other day: “Damn, I’ll have to go into that Yorkville library to get it!” I lifted my eyes in mild surprise and said: “You don’t mean you’re afraid to go to 86th street.” “Yes,” she replied, “there are times when it’s almost dangerous to go to that part of town.” Won’t the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library please assure this young lady, and others, that it’s still on good terms with the rest of the city?

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