Tuesday, July 15, 2008

History in our backyard: Charles M. Grossman, M.D.

In today's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine (July 15, 2008, 149(2):135-136), Charles M. Grossman, M.D., recounts his participation in "The first use of penicillin in the United States," which occurred on March 14, 1942. Grossman was "acting assistant resident" in his ninth month of service when he found himself caught up in the historical event.

This morning, Charles M. Grossman, M.D., happened by the History of Medicine Room here at OHSU. As it turns out, he has just closed his Portland office, out of which he served the city's population for 58 years. He came to see the Room and offer us some material for the archives (as soon as he finds it again; the house cleaner was a bit overzealous in straightening up his home office, apparently).

No stranger to controversy, Grossman has received attention a number of times for his actions in medicine and in politics. For example, a 1965 news article summarizing a debate on Medicare between Grossman and the equally notable local physician Edward E. Rosenbaum caught some of the vitriol of that event. Grossman told the story of an elderly patient financially ruined by medical bills, concluding that "She couldn't spend her last days in the dignity she had expected." Rosenbaum reportedly shot back, warning of the dangers of government interference in medical practice: "If you think they're going to pay your hospital bills and not exercise control, you've got another think [sic] coming."

In 1990, Grossman was issued a 30-day exclusion order from Portland parks for carrying an anti-nuclear war sign in Tom McCall Waterfront Park while the U.S. Navy ships were docked for Rose Festival. (We take our Rose Festival seriously here. But not that seriously. The order was later overturned and the underlying ordinance found unconstitutional in 1994.)

In the 1950s, Grossman was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and he wound up leaving OHSU (then University of Oregon Medical School) in 1954 when a senior faculty member declined to sign his grant renewal. Fit as a fiddle and clearly as open to a challenge now as ever, Dr. Grossman makes a valuable contribution to the history of the health sciences in the Pacific Northwest merely by getting up in the morning. We look forward to receiving any materials he might be interested in depositing.

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