Jurisprudence and crime detection suffered a great loss when the young Theodore Tyberg chose to follow his roots to Belgium and the study of medicine.
I learned that early last week when we met to speak in his corner office at New York Cardiology Associates and I asked what had led him to become a board-certified internist and cardiologist (which he insists on underplaying by describing it simply as “Doctoring.”) As he responded to the question “what led you to this profession?” I edited my notes, crossing out the word profession and substituted the word vocation. That word seemed much more to the point, since it summons up the act of hearing a call and responding to it.
“I suppose I always wanted to be a Doctor, except of course for wanting possibly to be a judge or a police inspector,” he replied, with a slightly mischievous smile.
And there it was: a career explained as his passion for asking, and listening and following the clues to solve a mystery. By early last week I saw a great deal of evidence of the choice he had made.
We will never know the Poirot or Holmes or Benjamin Cardozo that may have been lost to the world; but a certificate announcing his election to Alpha Omega Alpha upon completion of his studies at Chicago’s Rush Medical College testifies to the quality of the doctor he chose to be. The prestigious medical honor society’s members include more than fifty Nobel Prize winners in Physiology, Medicine, and in Chemistry, all elected to Alpha Omega Alpha as students. It is described as being the Phi Beta Kappa of medical schools.
In the end, it was that instinctive respect for the gift of listening and hearing that led me to request last week’s interview. It began some years ago when I came to his office seeking his opinion in the absence of my amazing primary care physician/cardiologist Allison Spatz who was away on a rare vacation.
As I looked around his examining room, I noted a framed Playbill cover of a Gala Tribute to the legendary Josh Logan held shortly after his death in 1988. It carried this handwritten note: “To Dear Ted, with our deepest gratitude for your compassionate, tender loving care of our parents in their hour of need.” Signed at River House on November 7 1989, by the children of Josh and Nedda Harrigan Logan. It seems that the passion for asking and listening is contagious. So, I asked this person I had never met, if he might tell me the back story of that cover. But to keep you in a bit of the suspense appropriate to the stage, let me say “more about that later” and go instead to the book cover I noted during last week’s visit. Hospital Smarts: The Insider’s Survival Guide to Your Hospital, Your Doctor, the Nursing Staff – and Your Bill, was co-authored by Dr. Tyberg and his colleague Dr. Kenneth Rothaus and was published in November 1995. It became an instant winner when it was published by Hearst Books and has gone on to have a continuing and continuously growing life as a website. Oprah saw the idea and its execution as the sort of practical and responsible service she was delighted to bring to her audiences. Dr. Tyberg expressed his own obvious delight with the remembered experience of appearing on a three-person panel of experts committed to de-mystifying hospitals and hospitalization for patients.
But he was quick to say that he harbored no hidden desire to become another Dr. Oz. Worldwide web to the rescue! The richness of the book survives and flourishes at Hospital Smarts. On these cyber pages, the visitor can see the photos and the credentials of the original authors and a team of medical contributors who work together to gather and post the most up to date information on each of the subjects addressed in the 1995 book. They can log on to read favorite passages of the currently out of print paper book (though I attest that I got one from Amazon overnight and for the proverbial song.)
And speaking of a song, let me end the “suspense” mentioned above. It was in fact a very specific song and its entirely unique performers that inspired last week’s conversation with the multifaceted Dr. Tyberg. His answer to my question about the Playbill cover for “A Tribute to Josh Logan” presented at Broadway’s Imperial Theater shortly after the legendary producer’s death, began with a story of one of our modern world’s greatest rarities. A doctor paid a house call! Albeit to two very fragile longtime patients.
There in the storied River House he entered their room and found a husband and wife lying in adjoining beds. I can hazard a guess that this physician did not lead with queries about the negatives that might have been the reason for seeking his help. So, he asked Josh and Nedda Logan about what they wanted to tell him about the good things: what delighted them, about what they wanted to share with him, about their lives. And that was when the dearest and most memorable account settlement happened. Wanting to give a gift to the man who continued to want to be as much about their wellness as their illnesses, they announced that they had something they wanted to give him. And so began a duet performance of “I Remember it Well.”
With all due respect to Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold who immortalized the song in Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 Oscar-winning film Gigi, it would be hard not to see how they might just have been upstaged by these two aging lovers reporting to their visiting healer. The tenderness, the playful sparring as memories were recalled and corrected, must have been unforgettable. I know they have been for me, or to put it as they might have done, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”
Opening photo: Bigstock by Shutterstock