Remembering Benjamin Felson, M.D.by Jeffrey Dach MD
One of my idols in radiology was Benjamin Felson, M.D., the guru of plain chest xray interpretation. Back in 1977, while in residency training in Chicago, I attended a radiology meeting where Dr. Felson showed slides of interesting cases, and asked the audience for the diagnosis. Stumping the audience on a difficult case, he jokingly disclosed that the findings we thought were due to eosinophilic pneumonia were in reality due to a bottle of scotch in his luggage which had broken during travel, and the radiographic findings were tongue marks on the slide as he tried to salvage a few drops of the rare elixir. This was an important lesson, because we all realized that the information on the xray could be misleading, and occasionally at odds with common sense.
In a previous article, I referred to Dr. Felson,
Benjamin Felson was author of one of the best-selling books in the history of radiology: Principles of Chest Roentgenology: A Programmed Text Copyright 1965, by Benjamin Felson MD.
This is another very popular book.
Humor in Medicine and Other Topics
by Benjamin Felson MD
Quoted from the book:
“Surprisingly little has been written about the purpose and use of humor, and this is particularly true of medical humor. Although I have used humor as a teaching gimmick for a long time, I’ve never tried to explain why, either to myself or to others. This is my attempt to do so. Perhaps the cliché “In the land of the blind the one-eyed main is king” applies here. You don’t have to be a teacher or a writer to use humor, of course. You don’t even have to tell jokes. Humor can be directed toward your patients, colleagues, or friends on an everyday basis, in the form of kidding or the “light touch.” Isn’t this really what is meant by a sense of humor? The value of such humor is pretty obvious. A physician has many serious encounters; a bit of banter will often reduce tension within himself, as well as in the patient and family, and even help to lubricate the friction that frequently arises among medical colleagues. Humor makes the doctor appear more human and humane…” Benjamin Felson , from Humor in Medicine, page 2.
“This $20 book is the perfect gift for the physician who has or could use a sense of humor. Written by the inimitable Dr. Felson of the University of Cincinnati, who was also a known expert, teacher, and author of several “serious” books on radiology. Humor in Medicine and Other Topics promises comic relief with chapters titled “The Cow in the X-ray Room,” and “Foreign Bodies I Have Known,” plus anecdotes from Dr. Felson’s many travels and the people he met. (Hard Cover: 212 pages)”
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
Benjamin Felson, MD, served as chief of radiology from 1951 to 1973, and later was named professor emeritus of radiology. In 1987, the university established the Benjamin Felson Chair in Radiology-the first academic chair in the United States ever named in honor of a living physician.
Benjamin Felson passed away in 1988.
He was certainly the greatest radiologist of his time, and perhaps of all time. He was one of the great men of this century.
He was also my very close and dean friend and colleague. He was like a second father to me, and his loss to me is monumental, as is his loss to all whose lives he touched in such a profound and positive manner. He lived the fullest life of anyone I ever knew. He was the quintessential student and teacher, the consummate traveler, and the most compassionate, loving, and lovable human most of us have ever known.
He was that rare combination of Will Rogers and William Oslen, and whenever he went, from Cincinnati to Colombia to China, he made a lasting impact and lifelong friends.
More than anyone else, he enhanced the reputation and knowledge of the fledgling specialty of radiology through his inquisitiveness and his gift for communication with both the written and spoken word. He nurtured the careers of countless students, residents, and doctors around the world. He will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who knew and loved him.
Godspeed, Ben, and continue to smile down on us from above as you did so often during your all-toobrief stay with us on earth.
MAURICE M. REEDER, MD
New York Times article appeared here: New York Times 1988.
Last week, I received this email from Marcus Felson, son of Benjamin Felson:
From Marcus Felson:
Dear Dr. Dach,
I noted your reference to my father, Ben Felson, in one of your articles. I’m glad to see his inspiration once more. I noted you are someone of diverse interests, including art, and I’m very sure he would be your friend if he were alive today.
You can add that my father was at heart a great intellectual, not just a specialist. He read half his high school library. After taking up medicine, he stopped reading broadly outside medicine. But he read broadly within medicine.
For example, he was virtually a pathologist, despite no degree in the area. He honored no boundaries. He remembered what he learned when young and applied it to radiology. His vocabulary was vivid and his writing full of allusions, despite its scientific precision. He loved pithy and smart people who could express themselves in speech or writing.
And he could tell a story so you didn’t forget it and it made you laugh or cry, or both. He was always a man on his own. In a sea of Republican radiologists, he was a Democrat. He saw things in X-rays nobody else saw. Sometimes he was wrong but sometimes he stunned people because only he got it. He re-diagnosed the Elephant Man’s disease based on X-rays of the remains in the British Museum.
His favorite task was to walk in the hospital and tell a patient who had been told of a terminal condition and say, “Go home. You don’t have anything. I saw the same spot on your lungs five years ago, and it’s a harmless anomaly.” As I say, he saw what others missed.
Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice
Benjamin Felson MD was a medical giant, the greatest of the great, and I have missed him and the world of radiology has missed him. He represents a generation of great doctors who are gone, never to be replaced. Perhaps it is because we live in different times.
Jeffrey Dach MD
Jeffrey Dach MD
7450 Griffin Road Suite 190
Davie, Florida 33314
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