Monday, February 01, 2010

Livingston LIVE!

Uncovered in unprocessed materials this morning were two audiocassettes (magnetic reel-to-reel 90 minute tapes, for you in the iPod generation). Both are recordings of talks given by William K. Livingston, M.D., past chair of the OHSU Dept. of Surgery.

One cassette holds a lecture on pain presented by Livingston at the University of Mexico in March 1966 (approximately 50 minutes running time). Opening with the seemingly simple question, what is the definition of pain, Livingston draws on all he has learned over the course of his fifty years in medicine to convince his audience that there is no simple definition, and no complete definition as yet, of what pain is. He cautions the crowd to always "maintain a healthy skepticism" when conducting pain research, whether towards inferences drawn from animal models, the unexpected behavior of experimental controls, or researchers boasting of new definitions of pain.

The other cassette contains a circa 80-minute lecture on S. Weir Mitchell, delivered by Livingston at a Detroit conference in October 1964, which begins with an overlong but rather entertaining joke about a lion tamer. On Side B, we hear Livingston recollecting the event, telling us about the Concertone recorder he took along with him and about his great surprise when the attendees brought out a huge cake before the talk to celebrate his birthday. It's an unexpected, intimate contact with the great surgeon.

Livingston (1892-1966) was educated at the University of Oregon (BA and MA) and obtained his medical degree from Harvard (1920). He completed his surgical residency at the Mass General before coming to Oregon in 1922. He joined the faculty of the University of Oregon Medical School in 1925 and became chair of the Dept. of Surgery in 1947. He was named Emeritus Professor of Surgery in 1961. He was the author of The clinical aspects of visceral neurology (1935); Pain mechanisms (1943); and posthumously, Pain and suffering (1998).

Let us not think that an internationally known pain researcher must be dour and and serious. In a memorial oration delivered probably by Hance Haney (we have an unsigned transcript), we read:
Bill Livingston cared deeply. Nobody enjoyed more than he did levelling himself and others with laughter: he was caring for us and curing us with his balsam of stories for every occasion, and stories for no occasion other than the advantages of delight. His gaiety carried us all away from ourselves with laughter, and allowed us to take another look at our lives.
In a very sad, anonymous, typed note, included in Livingston's Biographical File here in the archives, we read: "Oct. 14, 1980...Bust of Dr. L. was given back to his family. After Margaret Hughes retired in 1965, we thought few would know about him. So, she had it returned." We remember! We remember! And we will remember.

A collection of his papers is available at the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library.


Chris Shaffer said...

Margaret Hughes retired in 1975. Perhaps it was on the initiation of her tenure at OHSU rather than her retirement?

Sara Piasecki said...

Actually, I think it might just be a typo (1965 for 1975), because the note itself is from 1980.