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Transcript: Jerome S. Levy, 1975

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This is Oral History Interview #17 with Dr. Jerome S. Levy, a member of the class of 1925 at Washington University.  Dr. Levy, can you tell of us of your family and your early childhood?

My family that I have knowledge of, as far as my grandparents are concerned, the only one I knew was my paternal grandmother, who was quite a person.  She came to the States from Germany, in Baden-Baden, and married my grandfather, who was from near Warsaw and had been in the States several years.  I’m not aware of the degree of education that either had as far as schooling is concerned.  I believe my grandmother had the equivalent to a high school education.  I know nothing with regard to my paternal grandfather.  I never knew anything about my mother’s father and mother.  My paternal grandmother, was living in Kentucky – she and her husband had moved to Kentucky – and my father and his brothers and sisters were born in Henderson, Kentucky.  They were very well-known in their community.  My grandmother lived to be 90.  In fact, the day before her 90th birthday she walked down to a store and back in the morning and in the evening – a mile and a half each way, which is pretty good for a 90-year old.  She had her 90th birthday dinner and about two in the morning she developed lobar pneumonia and she died by early afternoon that day.  So it was one of these rapid affairs.  She was very alert, [and] knowledgeable.

One of the reasons she did this walking down to the store and back every day was to be able to meet with people, say hello to friends and to people who lived in the community.  She was up on everything.  In fact, when she was eighty-eight, a cousin of mine died when she was at Randolph Macon and I went from St. Louis down to be there that evening – the next day was the funeral.  With all the excitement, grandmother took me out on the porch and said she wanted to talk to me a little.  She sat down and gave me a good talk in regard to my medical career, what I should do, how I should carry it on and all.  Which was very good for an eighty-eight year old individual under such circumstances.  That was the type of individual she was.  Of course, my father and his siblings had inherited quite a bit of that from her and were able to carry on in comparable manner.

As I said, I knew nothing about my mother’s parents, but I did know some of her siblings, who were of very kind and compassionate character, interested in other people and in doing things, well thought of in their respective communities, and from whom I gathered some of the makeup, I think, in the things that I have done.  My father and mother were two people who were interested in the people of the community where we lived, [and] were particularly interested in work at the temple, my mother being president of the Ladies’ Aid or the Sisterhood, as it’s called, for three or four terms and on committees all the time.  My father was interested in the management of the affairs of the congregation and also, after its formation, was on the board of Levi Hospital in Hot Springs.  It was not named for any of my family but for one of the active men in the B’nai B’rith in New Orleans.  He was interested in this type of community affairs and I think I got a lot of that influence from him as well as from my mother.

My mother’s relatives were well thought of in their respective communities and my cousins were very fortunate in the selection of the people they married.  Two of them, in particular, were well-known internationally, so it gave me some solidity of feeling in the work that I would be doing at any time, because of them.  I feel that I have a great heritage in the respect [for] the activities of my uncles and aunts on both sides of the family.

What was your schooling?

I attended the public schools in Hot Springs, Arkansas, including the Hot Springs High School, and from there I went to Washington University for my academic work and then went into the School of Medicine.  I was very interested in the various things we did at the School and I had a pretty good scholastic record.  I was valedictorian of the class – I don’t know if it means anything or not – but at least the others were a very nice, intelligent group of youngsters, too, so I don’t know if there’s a question of this selection.  [Ed. note: Dr. Levy apparently refers to his selection as valedictorian.]

What were your college extracurricular activities?

Most of my extra activities in college were on the debating society, the organization of the Arkansas Club and in the student government activities.  I was on the student council and I made the senior honorary, _____(?).  The name has been changed since that time.  Most of my activities were in and have continued in that field.

Did you hold outside jobs in the summers?

When I was in school?

When you were in school – in high school or college.

No.  The idea was that I did enough work during the school year and that I was entitled to a vacation.  I’d go home and play tennis and that sort of activity during the summers.

How did you decide to enter medicine?

We moved from Kentucky, where I was born, to Hot Springs when I was four years old and lived next door to a doctor.  He was a very fine man.  His family and our family were very good friends.  I was thinking at various times about his garage here – he’d leave the house sometimes during the night [and] what he was must be doing going out to make someone feel better.  That gave me a rather sound impression and from that time on I developed a recognition of the fact that men is provided and commanded to be of service to one another and the idea appealed to me very much.  When I was about five years old, in that first year, I decided I was going to be a doctor.  I forgot about being a policeman or a fireman, but I selected on being a doctor then.

What was your medical education like?

My medical education was here at Washington University.

Could you tell us something about the teachers you had here?

Yes.  They have left a very strong imprint on me, just as well as they did on all the rest of my class.  I could mention a list of them:  Bob [Robert J.] Terry in Anatomy, Joe [Joseph] Erlanger in Physiology, and P. A. [Philip A.] Shaffer in Physiological Chemistry.  Then there was Evarts [A.] Graham, the surgeon, [and] there was David Barr and Harry Alexander in Medicine.  Ernie [Ernest] Sachs must be mentioned with a great deal of admiration and respect, and Bob [Robert] Elman who came in the late years and was a very close friend of mine, and all the others in the classes at that time.  Because they were excellent teachers and all of them promoted the basic idea that we had a patient with a disease not a disease with the patient.  That was hammered into us and I think it is sort of a strong foundation that we’ve all had in the practice of medicine.  Each of these men has left an imprint on each of us in our class.

I think Sachs is mentioned more frequently by us than anyone because he was a real taskmaster, but he was fair, he was square, and he insisted that we observe and come to some conclusions from the basis of history and our observations.  There are many, many stories to be told of him but I don’t think there’s a single one of us who didn’t cuss him on many occasions but didn’t love him because of what he did for us.  That can be said of practically every one of the main members of our faculty during those years.  It was during those years that several of those men came to [win] Nobel Prizes.  [They were] really, really fine leaders and teachers.  I’d say that that’s the imprint upon a lot of those that I’ve talked to.

What department was Dr. Sachs in?

He was a neurological surgeon.  Incidentally, he was the first one to have a chair of neurological surgery established for him in this country.  That was established here at Washington University for him.

Can you tell us about your internship?

After graduation I did about ten months in research for Dr. Sachs before my internship at the Jewish Hospital began.  About the first of April of ’26 we moved over from the old building on Delmar to what was then the “new” Jewish Hospital.  Now, after you see it, it’s not new anymore – far from it in spite of all the construction going on.  I had my internship there, and followed with a second year of internship at Missouri Pacific [Hospital] and a third [year] as a resident at Missouri Pacific.  Then I went on to practice in Little Rock.

How did you decide on your specialties?

I had decided – from Sachs’s influence I almost went into neurological surgery, but I felt that I wasn’t of the temperament to withstand all the difficulties of that field.  [I] had close contact with Joe [Joseph W.] Larimore in the gastrointestinal field and that influenced me a great deal and I decided to go into gastrointestinal work.  One thing that I think might be of a little interest in my schooling and my selection of Washington University, as the school to which I wanted to go for [my] medical education, is that when we were on a visit – I wasn’t in high school yet – to Henderson, Kentucky where my grandmother lived, we met with a very good friend of the families.  [He said] “Oh, you’re going to go into medicine.  I’m going to write my brother and see what he would recommend since you’re not certain about your school.”  The brother was Abe [Abraham] Flexner of the Rockefeller Foundation and so he wrote back and said that by the time I was ready, Washington University School of Medicine would be one of the finest schools, not only in the country, but in the world.  And he suggested that I make my plans to attend Washington University.  So I did, and one of the things I’d like to point out is what Abe Flexner and those of that ilk thought of Washington University.  And I’m glad to say that they still do – whoever is in that quality of work.

I went on in gastroenterology – studying it and working on it.  So it really was essentially three years of association with Larimore and two with Missouri Pacific being very close in the work that was done, so that made me decide on gastroenterology and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Did you go to Little Rock right after your residency?

Yes – September 16, 1929.  I remember that September the 16th day because that was when some of the effects of the big [stock market] crash hit Little Rock and closed one of the banks.  That’s a big memory!

Could you tell us about your teaching in Little Rock?

When I went to Little Rock, I had spoken to Dr. Barr—  Let me just interrupt.  One of the reasons I went to Little Rock instead of going back to Hot Springs, my home, to practice was because the University of Arkansas School of Medicine was there and I felt that I would like to do some work in teaching.  So I went there and saw Dr. [Frank] Vinsonhaler, who was Dean of the school, with letters of recommendation from Dr. [David] Barr, with whom I’d talked about it, and letters from Dr. Graham and Dr. Sachs.  So I was immediately appointed an Instructor in Medicine and gave about twelve hours a week in the clinic in addition to a lecture.  That lasted for several years, when I became Assistant and Associate Professor of Medicine.  I had the title of Clinical Professor of Medicine and I started and established, you might say, the basis for the development of the teaching of gastroenterology there at the school.  I’ve been given credit for having established the department.

I was doing this then until the war years.  When I came back after the war I gave a Thursday afternoon, two-hour course in some of the instruction and techniques that Ernie Sachs used in teaching the students, the juniors in medicine, to get a good history and do a good physical and to look and observe.  [I had] a great deal of fun [with] it.  I guess over the years – recently I’ve estimated that I’ve taught about 3,400 doctors in these years.  Some of these I’ve left an imprint on, some I didn’t, of course.  That’s natural.  (Laughs)  I’m the Clinical Professor of Medicine there now.  I’m glad to say they just established the Jerome Sickles Levy Annual Lecture in Gastroenterology – this is the second one.  They’re establishing a chair in gastroenterology – the Jerome S. Levy Professorship in Gastroenterology – when they raise the money for it.

Have you been able to find time, Dr. Levy, in your busy schedule to do any writing?

Yes, I have made a few contributions to the literature.  When I first went to Little Rock I became interested in the irritable colon picture and wrote an article on that and gave a talk at the state society meeting.  Then I’ve written other articles on the functional disturbances of the digestive tract.  I did a little work with Elman before I left St. Louis in use of amino acids and carried that through in Little Rock.  But the main work was done already – the basic work.  I wrote a paper on the value and buffering capacity of the amino acids in treating patients with ulcer of the stomach.  I remember one patient who didn’t have an ulcer but had had a low albumen count and a much-burdened abdomen and all.  I told him _____(?) – as I say, he had albumen in the blood – I told him that I wanted to give him this food.  It really wasn’t food but it was a special type; it didn’t taste good but it sure would make him feel good.  So he was willing to do it.  After the third day his serum albumen was up to normal, he’d gotten rid of practically all the fluid and as the black man said to me, “That’s the best bad medicine I’ve ever tasted.”  And I said to him, “Good.”  That’s a little bit of the humor that you get out of ______(?) research work from time to time.

At the present time I’m analyzing all the cases that I’ve seen of ulcerative colitis in my fifty years of practice.  I was to have given [a report] at the international meeting in Buenos Aires a year ago, but I wasn’t able to complete it in time.  I didn’t realize how much there was [involved in] investigating the cases and follow up of the cases.  I’m not quite through with my following up and checking up on the patients, so it’ll have to be another year or two before I can get the material right.  These things take time.  I guess I have eighteen to twenty papers that I’ve written on these various GI subjects.

Would you like to say anything more about your clinical treatment of patients in your practice?  What type of cases, for example, have you specialized in?

I’ve been doing mostly gastroenterology.  I would say that 90 to 95 percent of the patient load is in gastroenterological problems.  After all these years of practice, however, I don’t care what happens to any of the patients, I have to see them and tell them what specialist to go to or they won’t go because that’s just the way people have developed a dependence upon someone who shows an interest in them.

As I said, one of the main things that we’ve taught is that you have a patient who has the disease – and I’ve talked to the students as I’ve said earlier – and not a disease who has a patient.  Understanding the patient, working with the patient and getting their feeling that you, the doctor, is interested in them.  The program which I try to emphasize to the students – that makes these patients feel that you are really interested.  And the thing that they do, they follow instructions; otherwise they go to another doctor and another and another until someone shows them that he, the doctor, is interested in them and then the patients are willing to follow through with any rigid diet or restrictions or anything that one does.  This has been a great deal of the satisfaction that one gets in the practice of medicine, that feeling that one has accomplished something for someone else.  It is really a refreshing feeling to one and I enjoy that aspect of it.

Dr. Levy, will you tell us about the professional organizations – which ones you belong to and how you have participated?

We’ll start with our local Pulaski County, Arkansas, Medical Society, which is our local county society and which is a member of the Arkansas State Medical Society.  I’ve been the President of the local society, that is the Pulaski County one, and it was just at that time that we put over our polio immunization campaign.  Was that ’57, I believe, or— ’57, ’58 or ’59?  I think it was ’57.  I’m glad to say we adopted a state-wide program [and] we haven’t had a case of poliomyelitis in the state of Arkansas since except [for] someone who came in from outside the state.  That’s been a great satisfaction to all of us in the medical society.  Of course I belong to the state medical society – the Arkansas State Medical Society.  I’ve been first vice-president one time, but done other things and just had that position [and] I’ve been on committees.  One interesting committee of the state medical society was the Committee on Medicine and Religion.  I was Chairman of it for two years and it was very, very interesting work.  We associated with some of the ministers of the state and I think it was really rewarding – I enjoyed it very much.  Of course I belong to the American Medical Association.  For years I’ve belonged to the Southern Medical Association – I was Chairman of the Section of Gastroenterology on two different occasions over the years.  I belong to the American Gastrological Association and the American Congress for Gastroenterology – I’m a lifetime member of them.  It’s been many, many years that I’ve been a member of each of these.  I’m a member of the American College of Physicians and for nine years I was governor for Arkansas for the College.  Let me put a note in here that [being] governor for Arkansas for the College is a whole lot different than being governor of Arkansas, so you’ve got to watch that preposition.  (Laughs)

There are other organizations that I belong to.  I belong to the B’nai B’rith.  I’m on the administrative board of the American Jewish Committee which is interested in the protection of _____(?) [background noise makes words unintelligible] all over.  I’m a member of the administrative board of the southwest region of the American Jewish Committee.  While these are not medical associations, we are interested in civil rights, really the rights and all of those who are underprivileged.  It began in 1905, if I recall correctly, with an interest of the five prominent Jewish men in New York City to protect the Jews of Russia, if they could, who were undergoing a pogrom, and which has grown to terrific proportions and has done a very fine job throughout the years over protecting these particular rights of individuals.

Dr. Levy, could you tell us something about your other interests?

Yes.  I mentioned about the American Jewish Committee, which is a very vital interest of mine.  I’m also on the administrative board of the [Leo] Levi Memorial Hospital in Hot Springs.  It was established in 1917 [ed. note: the hospital was opened in 1917] in honor of Leo Levi of New Orleans [ed. note: Levi was a lawyer from Galveston, Texas], who was a very active B’nai B’rith [member].  B’nai B’rith established this hospital in Hot Springs for the sole purpose of treating arthritics.  Hot Springs is well-known for its management and treatment of arthritis.  My father was a member of the first board.  On his death I was elected to take his place so he and I have been on the board ever since it was founded.  It’s an administrative [appointment]; I don’t do any treatment or see any patients or anything over there.  It’s a wonderful institution – it’s a non-profitable, charitable institution.  In the years of the past, before insurance, Medicare, and Medipac there were no charges made.  People came and if they were able to pay anything they would give a contribution but there wasn’t any particular charge.  That has continued except that the insurance, Medicare, and Medipac will pay a certain amount of the charges and they accept those up to what they pay for hospital care.  It’s been doing very well.

As far as a personal hobby is concerned, the one which I have neglected to much of an extent, but which I’m still quite interested in is photography.  I have, I guess, certainly over 3,000 negatives of films taken during my Army service and on trips here and there in the world, and on one trip around the world that I took.

I didn’t mention the World Congress of Gastroenterology when I was talking about the organizations to which I’d belonged.  I have been a member of that since it was founded.  The first meeting was in Washington, D.C. and the Fifth World Congress – it meets every four years – was held in Mexico City this last October.  I’ve attended about every other one and it’s been a very fine organization for meeting people.  That might be called a hobby although it’s a professional one.

Going back to photography.  As I say, I have a lot of film.  Probably on my quote retirement end quote, I’ll do a lot of printing and making pictures.  I’ve been asked to have an exhibit at the art center in Little Rock, but I haven’t gotten around to getting the pictures made.

When did you serve in the army?

I was in the army for fifty-one months, I think it was.  I went in in June of ’42 and came out in March of ’46.

Where did you serve and what type of work were you doing?

I reported for duty at Beaumont General [Hospital] in El Paso and then was sent to Bushnell General [Hospital] in Brigham City, that’s fifty-five miles north of Salt Lake City, and was in charge of the gastrointestinal service there.  After a couple of years – [I] was transferred from there to Letterman General, the hospital on Pacific Avenue [San Francisco, California].  From there I was sent to Fiji and was in Nadi, that’s (spells) N-a-d-i, Fiji.  From there, after eight months, I was transferred to Seoul, Korea and was there for several months and [I] was discharged there and came home.  I was doing gastroenterology all the time, except I was the surgeon, so called, at Fiji, which was the administrative work.

Dr. Levy, you mentioned something about your retirement.  Are you working less now than you did in the past?

I would like to think that I am but I’m actually not.  People won’t let me do so.  I’ve been trying to lessen the number of patients seen per day, but so many drop in and [say] it’s just an emergency, which could have waited six months, as a general rule, but you never know until you see the patient.  So I don’t get as much relaxation as I would like to have.  I might say, however, that it is true I get a minimum of night work.  I make very few house calls and only that for some patients that are very close friends.  You can’t do anything at home; if a patient calls for me I send them on to the emergency room at the hospital at night.  They report back to me and occasionally I have to go over to see them.  Most of the time the [physician] on duty in the emergency room can take care of them.  I may go two or three months without a night call and then have six in one night.  There is some lightening of the load; I’ve given up certain types of things and I’ve gone to others.  Like the colonoscopic work – I’m not going into any of that.  I’m doing gastroscopies and esophagoscopies.  I’m not doing the other end except the sigmoids.  I’ve been able to schedule my work a little bit better, but they keep me busy all day.  It’s not what could be called “beginning retirement.”

Dr. Levy, I understand that you’ve been class secretary of the medical school class since its graduation in 1925.  Can you tell us something about your experiences as class secretary and about the other members of the class?

I can tell a little something.  I was the youngest member of the class so they elected me as permanent class secretary.  Bert [Bertrand Y.] Glassberg, who died of a coronary in September of ’71, was next youngest, and I think Ben Fox is still living and is here at this reunion, was the next to Glassberg.  Anyway, I have had the job and it’s been my particular obligation each five years or oftener of working up the program so as to get the attendance and urge everybody [to attend].  I write letters at least once a year, probably a couple times of year, and then for the year previous to the reunion, I get about three or four [letters] out, urging attendance and warning them that the date will be such-and-such a date and to be sure to be there.  I’ve had good contact with members of the class.  Of course, every once in a while I get a letter back from the wife that the doctor has passed on.  That, in itself, is the sad part of it, when I get those letters.

In general, I’ve been very pleased with the cooperation and the correspondence I get from members of the class.  They tell me about what’s going on within the family circle and what their accomplishments have been.  You’ve talked to Dr. Beckett Howorth and gotten some idea of what he’s accomplished.  Katherine Bain, (spells) B-a-i-n , gave a talk last night at our reunion dinner.  She was connected with UNICEF and did a great job over these years with it.  She told us [about] some of its work.  She has done a great deal in the pediatrics field and I think she’d be a good one for you to contact for the [oral history].

[Interruption in the tape]

This is a continuation of Oral History #17 with Dr. Levy.  Dr. Levy, would you like to say something about the other members of your class of 1925?

I’ve said something about Katherine Bain already.  In addition, E. H. [Einor Hugo] Christopherson, who for years was the secretary of the American Pediatrics Society, was given an honor award from the AMA for his work with it.  He’s now in semi-retirement in San Diego.  He went out there to retire but has continued teaching in the Department of Pediatrics in the University medical school there and is doing a lot of writing.  He’s done a great deal of work and we’re very proud of him.  Then there’s Bill [William G.] Hamm, of Atlanta, Georgia, who is a plastic surgeon.  He’s been doing a great deal of lecturing and is well-known throughout plastic surgery circles.  He’s giving several lectures in Florida at this time; he was committed to them so he couldn’t come to the [reunion].  Christopherson is giving a couple of lectures at the same time out in California and so was unable to come here.

Gershom [Joseph] Thompson, as I think everyone around here knows, has been at the Mayo Clinic and was one of the pioneers in the transurethral prostatic resection.  He has retired and spends about half his time in Minneapolis and the rest of the time visiting with his children and grandchildren out on the west coast, or in that area.  He’s done a great deal of writing and is one of the world’s authorities in prostatic surgery.  He was unable for physical reasons to be here at this time.  And we miss him [deeply].  _____(?) has been at most of our meetings.  Others, I think, will be interested in the works he’s done here and I think that so are the rest of the members of the class that are still living – to give some information on these.  Some who are not too well, however, I don’t think would be of help at this particular time.  This really sums up some of the present knowledge of those who’ve been active members of the class who’ve made particular contributions, but I’m sure each and every one has done something and it would be worthwhile contacting them.

Thank you very much for this information about other members of the class of 1925.  This concludes Oral History Interview #17 with Dr. Jerome S. Levy.


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