Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr and Changing Medical Practice

Integrating the care of mind and body has never been routine in the practice of medicine.  Finding a way to bridge that divide is a daunting task.  I found unexpected encouragement today, while bringing light and air to the surface of my desk for the first time in a year or two.  Buried in the “please find a place to file this” pile, I found a page my father had typed in law school sixty years ago.  He had passed it on to me when I finished medical school.

On the page is a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, taken from a speech to students at Harvard University in 1886.  Mr Holmes, a thrice-wounded veteran of the American Civil War, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt at age 61 in 1902 and retired 30 years later as our oldest Supreme Court justice ever.  His legal opinions are among the most influential ever written.  Here is what the Harvard students heard that can serve also as inspiration for the work to create the PsychoPhysiologic Disorders Association:

“No man has earned the right to intellectual ambition until he las learned to lay his course by a star which he has never seen, – to dig by the divining rod for springs which he may never reach.  In saying this, I point to that which will make your study heroic.  For I say to you in all sadness of conviction, that to think great thoughts you must be heroes as well as idealists.  Only when you have worked alone, when you have felt around you a black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds the dying man, and in hope and in despair have trusted to your own unshaken will, – then only will you have achieved.  Thus only can you gain the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men who never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought, – the subtle rapture of a postponed power, which the world knows not because it has no external trappings, but which to his prophetic vision is more real than that which commands an army. And if this joy should not be yours, still it is only thus that you can know that you have done what it lay in you to do, – can say that you have lived and be ready for the end.”

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