A Student’s memories of Dr. Saxton Pope
“Good morning! … Dr. Pope!” Thus Dr. Saxton Pope greeted his classes on their enrollment day. The staccato introduction was impressive, different from the usual manner of teachers – even as the man was both different and impressive. Few of the listening students realized how greatly, during the years of their training in medicine, they would learn to love this man and to respect the significant statements, often clothed in jest, which they were to hear from his lips. Dr. Saxton Pope stood before them, quiet-voiced, with lively yet penetrating eyes. His hat and goves lay on the table beside him; and before a week had passed he had informed the class that everyone, no matter what the state of his finances, should always see that his collar was clean, shoes neatly polished and gloves in hand – for by these was a lady or gentleman known.
A man of unusual poise and self-command, in the emergency of the operating room he unfailingly exemplified courage. Quietly and cryptically, he would say to the incautious one who uttered “Oh!” at the sight of a spurting vessel, “Never exclaim. Just use pressure with your finger until the surgeon gets it with the hemostat; and if it is a large vessel like the iliac, put your foot on it.”
To a woman doctor who was sponging for Dr. Saxton Pope, he said, “Now sponge firmly. Don’t be like an old hen scratching for food for her chicks. Never irritate tissues.” He added, “If one can’t do any good, one should not do harm, no matter what branch of medicine it may be.” Once, when a student expressed dissatisfaction over failure to recognize a certain disease, he said, “Don’t you know that you will make progress only when you realize that there are still things for you to learn?”
In instruction, he was always calm – sometimes caustic; but he never flurried the student. Never, because of his watching eye, was a student unable to correct an error. He was one man who would allow a student to begin an operation, perform and finish it. One of the ablest surgeons, he was willing to act the part of an inexperienced assistant.
One morning, while conducting a class in first aid, he say, through the window, a body falling from an upper story to the ground beneath. Without change in expression, Dr. Saxton Pope excused himself from the class. Within ten minutes, he was back, and his only comment was, “I have just performed a Caesarian.” A woman in labor had hurled herself out of the third-story window of the old hospital. He had seen her falling, had stepped outside to see what the trouble was, and had delivered the dead woman, by Caesarian, of a living child.
Dr. Saxton Pope constantly taught that the medical student should do everything possible to put the patient at ease. He was himself able to converse with, and gain the confidence of, patients of virtually any nationality.
Many of his patients will always be grateful for the pregnant little comments which he made on his own experience. Once he said, “If, in an emergency, a patient has time to come into the office, then the doctor has time to read up on the emergency before attempting treatment.” If a pupil exclaimed, “That patient makes me sick,” instantly he would remark, “How the patient affects the doctor does not matter. It is the doctor’s place to cure and aid the patient.”
Dr. Saxton Pope’s other interest helps his practice.
Dr. Saxton Pope’s non-professional interests – his clever practice of the art of Houdini; his love of music and the delight which, through music, he gave to others; his sympathetic understanding of children – are memorable to those who were privileged to partake of the hospitality of his home. The wider world knew him also, not alone as master of medicine but as master of the bow and arrow. His experiences as a hunter of wild animals have been told elsewhere, both by himself and others.
Because he was a man ever humble and courageous always; an investigator and writer on many subjects; an excellent teacher with understanding of man and nature; and a man devoted to his family and fireside, his friends and pupils still talk of him – passing on, in daily speech, his sayings and his teachings. So lives on the spirit of Dr. Saxton T. Pope.
– ISABELLE ARMSTRONG, 1918.