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Fierro circa 2005 Photo courtesy Rich-mond Academy of Medicine
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A makeshift memorial at Virginia Tech in the aftermath of the shooting Photo courtesy of Casey Templeton
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Kay, circa 1950 Photo courtesy Richmond Academy of Medicine
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Olshansky’s 1966 med-school yearbook Photo courtesy Richmond Academy of Medicine
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Konerding at the University of Miami, circa 1973 Photo court-esy Richmond Academy of Medicine
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Dr. H. Myron Kauffman Jr. in 1989 Photo courtesy Richmond Academy of Medicine
As part of its mission to support and promote the local medical community, the Richmond Academy of Medicine established the Oral History Project, interviewing 125 doctors to create a unique and rich history of Richmond-area medicine.
Here are five excerpts from the recordings, with links to the original audio recordings.
1. The Pressures of a High-Profile Case
Dr. Marcella F. Fierro, Virginia's chief medical examiner from 1994 to 2007 (and the inspiration for crime novelist Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta character), on her involvement with the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shooting case. Listen to the whole story in her own words. What made Virginia Tech different from other disasters were the circumstances. This is a university; this is almost hallowed ground … . It became apparent to us early on that our major issues here were, one — and we didn't know how many shooters there were — to recover all of the material that the firearms examiners could possibly need to establish whether there was one gun, two guns or maybe three … and that required autopsying everyone to recover the bullets and bullet fragments. And the second was identification. We had to be secure with the identification. And that's where we took the most heat … . There was no way I was sending a body to Indonesia without a solid identification. There was no way I was sending a body to Israel without a solid identification. Now some of the kids, obviously they didn't have fingerprints, they're not on anybody's database because they're not crooks … . And so the police spread out to their various rooms and lodgings to collect their fingerprints from their cosmetics, from their books and so forth, and we did identify everybody. … Ultimately we did everybody by prints, six by dental [records], and we released them — let's see, we had the last body in by 8 o'clock on Monday [the day of the shooting], everybody was identified by Thursday afternoon, the last one left the place on Friday, except for the shooter, whose family needed some time.
2. Making a Stand in Tobacco Town
Dr. Saul Kay (1914-2004) recalling a 1953 talk in Richmond by pioneering thoracic surgeon and founder of the American Board of Surgery Dr. Evarts A. Graham . Listen to the story in his own words. He came to talk to the Academy … and I still remember some of his statements, saying that: "I know this is a tobacco city … and what I'm saying against tobacco may rub you the wrong way, but after all, you invited me, and I'm here to tell you exactly what I think. Some of you people have just turned your back on it when we tell you about experiments on rats and mice concerning lung cancer. You say, ‘Well that's a mouse or a rat,' and you won't believe that tobacco does this. But believe you me, I've stopped smoking myself." He stopped too late; he died of lung cancer.
3. See One, Do One, Teach One
Dr. Kenneth Olshansky, who attended the Medical College of Virginia from 1968 to 1969, describes a very New York internship. Listen to the whole story in his own words. We were on [duty] every other night, and just totally exhausted, but in my internship year, I worked at Lincoln Hospital which was in the South Bronx, so it was gunshot wounds and stab wounds all night long. You know as an intern, the first-year resident ran the ER, he was the first in line, and the intern took orders. I remember the last day of my internship, a stab wound comes in, and the guy's in shock and I turn to the first-year resident and I say, "Tell me what to do." He says, "Get an IV started, call the operating room, put in a Foley, draw some blood, blah blah blah blah," and I go on and do it. Well the next day is when, July 1st, things change, and I'm the first-year [resident]. So then the first day I'm in the ER, a gunshot wound comes in and this intern says, "What do I do?" I say, "Put in a Foley, start an IV, call the OR … " — you know, see one, do one, teach one! It's just an amazing education process.
4. The Only Female in the Class
Dr. Hazle S. Konerding, who attended the University of Miami School of Medicine from 1969 to 1973, on the OB-GYN department chair, Dr. William A. Little. Listen to the story in her own words. The chairman of the OB-GYN department at Miami was notorious, and my fellow classmates came to me and said, "Look, this guy lives by the fact that he's never had a female medical student he couldn't reduce to tears, and we're here just to warn you because your OB rotation is coming up." The only contact this guy had with the students was, he gave one lunch lecture on female sexuality. So there's like 10 medical students, we're sitting at our little classroom desks with our brown-bag lunches, and he's got a … professor's table, blackboard behind it. And he strode in, looked around the room, looked at me, thought he had a victim. And he looks at me and he says, "OK young lady, can you have sex and eat lunch at the same time?" And I said, "I don't know, Dr. Little, why don't you climb up on the table and we'll find out?" He turned purple, stammered, sat down and gave a very dry lecture, and at the end of it my fellow medical students said, "Dammit, that's where we get our store of dirty jokes, and he didn't tell a single one!"
5. Making Medical History
Dr. H. Myron Kauffman Jr., then a third-year resident working under Dr. David Hume, on his involvement with the first cadaver kidney transplant in the country, at MCV Hospital (now VCU Medical Center), in 1962. Listen to the story in his own words. The morgue attendant told us we couldn't take the body to the operating room, and we just ignored him and loaded the body up and ran through the tunnels and up to the operating room at MCV. When we got to the 11th-floor operating room at MCV, [Dr.] Hume said, "Call Dr. Saul Kay, tell him I need him to come down here to do a frozen section on this kidney when we take it out, because we don't know why this man died, or anything about it." So I called Dr. Kay at home, and Mrs. Kay told me that Saul was out walking the dog. I explained to her why I was calling … and would she please … bring him to the phone. And she says, "Nobody disturbs Dr. Kay when he's walking the dog." Well, I pled some more, and finally Dr. Kay came on the phone, and he graciously came down to do the frozen section. While all this was going on and they were getting the OR set up … word leaked out to Dr. Charlie Cardwell, who was the hospital administrator, that we were going to do this donor. Cardwell called Hume and told him he couldn't operate on a dead person in his operating room … and he could take this kidney out in the morgue. Well, Hume compromised with him by suggesting that we use the old abandoned labor and delivery room on the sixth floor of St. Philip Hospital as the operating room. So we had to move the patient, the donor, again, all the sterile packs, all the sterilized operating room instruments, etcetera, from the 11th floor of MCV to the sixth floor of St. Philip through the tunnels.