Immortal Bird Postscript

Doron Weber on Immortal Bird Aftermath

Immortal Bird Article, Reader Letter on Physician Training & Big Ride Update: Days 45 & 46

–The July/ August issue of Brown Alumni Magazine has a nice article about Immortal Bird with a photo of Damon, “A Father’s Story.”
–I continue to get wonderful reader letters but have been so preoccupied with the Big Ride that I have not posted any. Here is one that addresses the core issue of how we train physicians:

Dear Mr. Weber: I apologize if this is intrusive to communicate through your “work” email, but I wanted to tell you how deeply moving and beautiful I found your book Immortal Bird to be. I am myself a cardiologist, and also a mother of two young adult children. It made me feel such shame to read about the behaviors of the transplant cardiology physicians at Columbia. I am sure that you have read Abraham Verghese’s various writings about how doctors forget to even notice the patient in the bed, and his family standing at the bedside, because they are so enmeshed in the culture of health care teams , shift work, and computer-based medical records. Your experience just adds to my conviction that they are not training good doctors anywhere. I actually was a medical student at Columbia in the 1970’s, and I learned to care for patients the old fashioned way, to become “married” to medicine in a way that provided continuity of care to patients clinically, and emotionally. While it is a hard thing to be available to your patients when you do not know what is wrong, or do not know how to change the course of their illness, it is the most important thing you can offer as a physician. I wonder if your justly deserved feelings of outrage and betrayal wouldn’t have been tempered by their willingness to be present and available even when things were going badly, and to admit that they may have made mistakes. It is much easier, I have learned, to avoid patients and their families rather than admit that you cannot cure them.

I think your book should be required reading for medical students or residents, just as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Ann Fadiman. Thank you for writing it.

Elizabeth Ascher, M.D.

–Wednesday, we biked 102 miles from Bedford to Gettysburg and although it was billed as a huge day on the bike with several big climbs and treacherous descents, most of us enjoyed the ride. It wasn’t too hot and we passed several state and national parks and there was an excellent bike route for 80+ miles, “S” Penn DOT, apparently thanks to former Governor Tom Ridge, an avid cyclist. The long climbs all repaid us with exhilarating descents and we had a great lunch prepared by a 2008 Big Rider, Tony, and his son, a cyclist in training. We passed several historic places like Burnt Cabins and Fort Lyttleton and also crossed the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia. There was a brief shower just before Gettysburg and a view of the famous battlefield on the ride in. We are staying in Gettysburg College.
— Thursday was a rest day, our last day off on the Big Ride. After six straight days of riding there was an accumulation of laundry. We washed and lubed bikes and a couple of us cycled out to the battlefield and wandered around the site of America’s bloodiest Civil War battle and the Soldier’s National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg address. We also enjoyed beer and food and Olympic coverage at the Irish pub, breakfast at the Lincoln Diner, dinner at Classic Thai and a bistro and ice cream and milk shakes at Cannon Ball Malt Shop which has the original 3-inch shell fired by the Confederates still embedded in its second story window.


Leaving Bedford, once an important frontier military post and famous for its medicinal springs


Passing a gravel pit on Ashcom Road


Big Rider Todd gets a flat tire. More bikes seem to be breaking down as we near the end and more riders are having falls.


A stream near the town of Mench, Pennsylvania


Biking through cornfields. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in corn for silage.


Route 30 where we had our first checkpoint by a Starbucks


Buchanan State Forest near Cove Gap, donated by Harriet Lane, the niece of our fifteenth president, James Buchanan.


The valley en route toward Hustontown with the Tuscarora Mountains in the bg.


The village of Burnt Cabins, Native American land where 11 early squatter cabins were burnt down by the provincial government in 1750 to keep the peace and show Native Americans their ownership would be respected. By 1763, European settlement had begun. The grist mill was built in 1830 and still produces flour.


2008 Big Rider Tony and his son, who prepared us a great feast for lunch at Cowans State Park.


Biking through rolling farmland


Crossing the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail, 2100 miles of wilderness that runs through 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.


Entering Gettysburg on Lincoln Avenue, one passes markers of the famous battle


A famous life-like statue of Abraham Lincoln in the town square


A statue of General George Meade, who defeated Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg despite being appointed only 3 days earlier to lead the Army of the Potomac.


A view of the battlefield from the Union side on Cemetery Hill.


Sharpshooters or snipers from both sides played a key role in the battle


Artillery also played a key role. Cannon could reach as far as two miles.


Little Round Top, control of which would have given the Confederates a big advantage. Union troops reached the hill ten minutes earlier and mustered a successful defense that may have been the key turning point in the Battle of Gettysburg.


The memorial for Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address at the Soldier’s National Cemetery, delivered 4 months after the Battle of Gettysburg. Few yet understood that the battle was decisive since the war went on for two more years, just as few knew that Lincoln’s two-minute speech–it was so brief the official photographer never got a shot–would become one of the most important speeches in American history.


3100 Union troops and 4700 Confederate troops died in the battle of Gettysburg. There were over 50,000 casualties.


Big Rider Rob Wilson is joined by his wife Beth and two daughters in Gettysburg.


The Cannon Ball Malt Shop off the town square, which has a 3-inch
Hotchkiss shell fired by the Confederate side lodged in the second story wall. Only one civilian died, from a stray bullet, during the bloody 3- day battle.


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Doron Weber on Immortal Bird Aftermath

Doron Weber on Immortal Bird Aftermath

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