HERE'S WHOSE MUG . . .
An even dozen respondents wrote in and proved two facts beyond a shadow of a doubt: (1) the faculty member pictured in the "Whose Mug Is This?" photo on the back of the Spring Alumni News & Notes (right) is without question pediatrician Saul Blatman and (2) he was indubitably a kindly, compassionate clinician and teacher.
There are always themes and patterns evident in the responses to the "Whose Mug" photo, but the sentiments that readers shared about Blatman exhibited unusual accord in their use of words like "kindness." He may have been the founding chair of DMS's Department of Maternal and Child Health, from 1972 to 1977, but the memories that readers shared were of an empathetic role model rather than an efficient administrator.
"Pediatricians two issues in a row," joked Brian O'Sullivan '80. "The surgeons will be up in arms! Although I knew Dr. [Judy] Frank [the previous issue's 'Whose Mug' subject] only peripherally, this issue's 'mug,' Saul Blatman, is the reason I am a pediatrican. He was the epitome of a gentleman-scholar--wise, kind, compassionate, avuncular. He took this timorous medical student and turned him into an eager pediatrician. I owe my career to Dr. Blatman and thank him daily. He was a gift to DMS. . . . We had four students from our class of approximately 60 students go into pediatrics, and all would attest that Dr. Blatman was the driving force in their decision-making. It was wonderful to see his 'mug' again. It brought back fond memories. Thanks."
Blatman also made a deep impression on Eric Brenner '73. "On my pediatric rotation at the old Mary Hitchcock," he wrote, "I distinctly remember Dr. Blatman introducing the then-standard infant immunization schedule, and I remember being at once enchanted and astonished. Enchanted because my own son, Joel, had just been born at MHMH and was in the process of getting his own infant shots--and all of a sudden the whole process and schedule made sense. At the same time, I was astonished at the grand concept that a single schedule might serve as a model for most of the 4 million children in each annual U.S. birth cohort. Since then, I have had many occasions to think back to that lecture on the early-1970s schedule--notably in the 1980s when I had the opportunity to work with the World Health Organization in Geneva on their Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), where we had to deal with immunization schedules from many countries (as well as WHO’s own 'model' schedule), and more recently in an M.P.H. course that I now teach about the epidemiology of vaccine-preventable diseases, where we study the history and rationale for the evolution of standard ACIP-AAP immunization guidelines. It is truly astonishing that there is not one item in the schedule that Dr. Blatman showed us that has not since been modified . . . a nice example of how so much of what one learns in medical school is likely to evolve with time. "But," continued Brenner, "from this anecdote comes a larger legacy of Dr. Blatman, who on rounds emphasized duty and service to patients and their families as well as . . . the need to be devoted to life-long learning: two Dr. Blatman lessons which in the scheme of things became much more important than vaccination schedule details imparted to some eager but otherwise very green third-year students."
Meg Allyn Krilov '84 is another alum who has fond memories of someone she described as a "pediatrician extraordinaire. I was lucky to have him as a mentor during my pediatric rotations and still remember many of his techniques today, utilizing them in my pediatric rehabilitation practice. He made every patient feel special and as though they were the only people who mattered at that moment. Time was of no consequence when he spoke to a patient or examined them, and he exuded caring concern."
"Who could ever forget Saul Blatman?" wrote Eric Van Leuven '77. "While there were many highlights at DMS, the maternal and child health rotation was indeed something special for me, largely as a result of Dr. Blatman. He represented so much of what I feel are those extra, magical ingredients that both complement and augment academic-clinical expertise--those being respect, empathy, warmth, kindness, caring, and love. If you never saw the man before, surely you would still see those qualities even in just the 'mug' picture in the newsletter. "I am at my best," continued Van Leuven, "when I embody those qualities that he so admirably represented, and I still think about him despite the passage of so many years. . . . Although my final career path (children and adults with severe mental illness) diverged from his, I employ much of what he taught me in my own work. . . . Thank you, Dr. Blatman. I am truly blessed to have known you!"
Among the other alums who wrote in were Mark Powers '77; Lee Bateman '74 (who recalls that Blatman "raised his eyebrows in disbelief when I told him I was going into family medicine"); and Stewart Beecher '78 (who remembers Blatman as "a true gentleman who kindly hosted great student gatherings at his farmhouse."). It wasn't only students on whom Blatman made an impression. Several members of the faculty wrote in with fond reminiscences, too.
Physiologist Heinz Valtin met Blatman back when both were medical students themselves. "It was either late 1953 or early 1954," Valtin recalls, "when Saul and I became roommates at Cornell Medical School, where I was in my first year. Saul was a senior at Duke Medical School at the time, and he had come to New York as an extern in pediatrics; subsequently, he took his internship and residency at Cornell. The episode strikes me as typical of the times: Without prior warning or seeking permission, the 'authorities' at Cornell had simply moved a bunk bed into our dormitory room to accommodate a third person, namely, Saul. No questions asked--though it proved a fortuitous chance meeting."
Hematologist Gibb Cornwell also had a humorous memory. "I used to see him on the pediatric inpatient unit of the old hospital," Cornwell wrote, "where he complained to me about the danger of rolling the portable x-ray machine down the hallway. When the machine finally fell through the floor, I asked him what was beneath the linoleum. He smiled and said, 'Two layers of chicken wire.'"
Fellow pediatrician Bill Boyle recalls Blatman as "a teacher and a pioneer who preached that hospital doors must swing out and embrace the community [and] promote health and disease prevention. That was more than 30 years ago! The message has finally been heard."
And Ted Harris '60, who had returned to DMS as a member of the faculty in the 1970s, recalls that "Saul Blatman was genetically cast perfectly for his role as a pediatrician. He exuded kindness and personal concern for all he met, whether young or old. As chair of the new Department of Maternal and Child Health at DMS, he set a new paradigm for linking mothers, babies, and children. Saul and his family lived across the street from the Harris family on Clement Road, and we enjoyed frequent meals and informal gatherings together. [He was] a generous and noble man. . . . We all miss him."
The final respondent was Bob Klein, a former member of the DMS faculty who is now chair of pediatrics at Brown (which is, coincidentally, Blatman's undergraduate alma mater). "I read my DMS Alumni News & Notes faithfully," wrote Klein, "and was happy to see Saul Blatman's photo in your 'Whose Mug' section. I've attached a picture of that very picture (see right), which is hanging on my office wall at Brown--right under my precious Dartmouth 'Saul Blatman Excellence in Teaching Award.' . . . I was there when the photo was taken in the old pediatric wing in Hanover. I still remember the child and family, and their reaction to Saul's magnetic personality is evident in the photo. "Saul had a major impact on my career decisions," Klein concluded, and "was a wonderful teacher, a compassionate healer, and a mentor to so many who trained at Dartmouth."
Sadly, Blatman died in 1982, so he can't know how fondly he's remembered. But he has a daughter who is a DMS graduate--Holly Blatman Rothkopf '82--who is carrying on his legacy. As, of course, are all the students on whom he imprinted his kindly, compassionate ways--including Eric Van Leuven, who wrote that he has "recognized a number of your 'Whose Mug Is This' people and wished many times I had written my thoughts about them. In this case, I just couldn't put it off any longer." And Van Leuven gets a tangible reward for following up, for he was the winner of this issue's mug drawing.