In July there were various articles about the 10th-year remembrance of the GREATEST surgeon ever to draw a breath─ Dr. Michael E. DeBakey. He was my boss at the GREATEST place in the world for cardiac surgery─ the Baylor College of Medicine. As we age friends tend to call us by first names. No one I knew of called Dr. DeBakey, Michael. He was thought to be almost deified.
Dr. DeBakey was all business, almost without a sense of humor. When I was hired in 1983, I was invited to breakfast in San Francisco with Dr. DeBakey and E. Stanly Crawford; they were two of the three most honored surgeons in the world. Dr. DeBakey could put into a sentence what it would take the rest of us a paragraph to communicate. “Are you any good technically.” He asked me. I replied, “In the present company, I would hesitate to claim I was the BEST.” Dr. D just stared at me without even a smile. I just shrank.
As a principal in the department, I met with him weekly and it was all business. He worked almost nonstop. He required 4 hours of sleep and kept cases of Wolf Brand Chili in his office for sustenance.
I must tell you of the single episode where my humor was appreciated by Dr. DeBakey: it was at a dinner honoring a Swedish doctor who was a member of the Nobel Committee. I sat across from Dr. DeBakey and listened to his dissertation for the evening. He would often start to enlighten people with his knowledge of non-medical subjects. That night he emphasized that international conflicts were always between the north and south. He described the Greek city-states, the Roman empire, and of course our Civil War. Everybody in the room listened intently. When finished that night, he looked at me and asked, “What do you think Jim?” I replied, “Well, Dr. DeBakey, I did not know they grew cotton in all them places.” He laughed so hard, I thought he would fall out of his chair!