Contributor: Carl Voyles
Sunday mornings we had assistant resident rounds in Dr. Stead's office, reviewing major cases from the preceding week. Elsewhere on the Duke campus, football season had started and Duke was playing the University of North Carolina, a rival - actually, the rival - university, which happened to be in Chapel Hill, 12 miles away.
Putt Pryor, one of the assistant residents that morning, had presented his cases, made his arguments for how they had been diagnosed and treated, then added, quietly and almost apologetically, "I have a request, Dr. Stead."
"What's that, Putt?"
"I'd like to take some time from the hospital next Saturday to go to the Duke-Carolina football game."
Dr. Stead fixed him with his famous steely gaze - half smile, half
admonition. ".......Putt," he said, pausing for effect.
"Yes, Dr. Stead."
"Have you ever seen a football game?"
"Yes, Dr. Stead."
"Then why do you want to see another one?" This was followed by a true Stead smile, which closed the subject as he turned to Jape Taylor. "Jape, present your cases."
Fort Bragg, North Carolina June 10, 1951
We were, almost all of us, still on reserve military duty, Dr. Stead too, as a colonel in the Duke Unit, a medical unit that had stayed together and served admirably during WW II.
We went as a group by military bus to Fort Bragg that summer for a required two weeks active duty, during which we saw patients and drilled during the day but were on our own at night.
Dr. Stead enjoyed playing table tennis, which he called "ping-pong." He also enjoyed having a martini after supper, before playing, sometimes two.
"Carl, would you like a game of ping-pong?" he sometimes asked after supper.
"Sure, Dr. Stead." I would reply.
We played three evenings, leaping for angled shots - scrambling for those falling short. He was agile as a mountain goat and good, but I matched him point for point and won, not once but twice.
"Two out of three, Dr. Stead," I said as we put up our paddles after our game the night before.
"We'll play again tomorrow," he said with that half smile, half admonition.
"Yes, Sir -- be glad to," I replied, probably a little smugly, having beaten the professor at something, at least.
The next evening after dinner I picked up paddles and new balls and started over to one of the tables. Dr. Stead took me by the arm and motioned toward the bar. " We'll have a cocktail first," he said.
We did -- two martinis each.
"Now we'll play," he said.
We did, and he won, although the games were closely fought and exhausting. I wasn't used to the effect of that much gin, even after a hearty meal.
He had performed a scientific experiment - a "double blind," analyzing the effect of two martinis on two almost evenly matched players' ability to control the movements of a small white ball with a paddle.
Durham, North Carolina ... October 1, 1948
I was fresh "off the boat" after two years of being away from academic medicine. There had been plenty of practical experience, as well as a lot of wasted time during my years as a doctor and flight surgeon in Texas, California and overseas. It was good to be back in the States to continue my graduate education toward becoming a specialist.
I was torn between two goals: would it be surgery, to which I'd been introduced by my cutting buddies, Vernon Kroll and George Tootle in Okinawa operating rooms, or should I continue the training in internal medicine I'd started at Johns Hopkins. I elected the latter, mainly because of Dr. Eugene Stead, a dynamic young professor who had trained under the best in Boston and had come down from Atlanta to head the medical department at Duke University, where I'd graduated from medical school. Dr. Stead's reputation as a teacher and taskmaster preceded him. Anyone who trained under Stead and survived had to be good!
It was my first day of rounds with Dr. Stead's entourage -- a dozen junior medical students, two interns, Sam Martin, the chief resident and me, the new kid on the block.
I was late reporting in because of an airline strike. I was to be a first year assistant resident on the medical service at Duke Hospital, one step above being a lowly intern.
Sam Martin, the chief resident, had asked me to examine a young woman with a swelling in her neck, a goiter. The medical student and intern on my ward had worked her up, that is to say, had examined her, done some lab tests and made a tentative diagnosis.
I asked the woman to sit on the edge of her bed as I commenced to gently probe her neck, mainly to detect any hardness, which might indicate a tumor.
Dr. Stead raised a hand and asked me to step aside. He nodded to one of the interns -- "Will someone show Dr. Voyles how to palpate a thyroid gland?" he asked, with what I came to learn was a typical Stead cross between a smile and admonition.
The intern, who'd learned all of the professor's preferences in doing physical examinations, stepped smartly around me, reached behind the patient and palpated her neck and thyroid, with both hands from behind.
I, the new kid on the block, who was there to learn but should have been a step ahead of interns and students, nodded sagely and proceeded with the rest of the examination, very carefully.
I've checked thyroid glands with both hands from the rear ever since.
Dr. Stead, despite my rough introduction to him, became by far my best teacher, as well as friend, during my subsequent five years of residency and fellowship training at Duke.