This is a book of memoirs. Its building elements are stories from my
life, my experiences. Some touched my very soul and influenced the most
important decisions in my life; others carry a simple message or a
Many people contributed to my professional career: teachers, pupils,
colleagues, patients under my care and my family. I owe all of them a
debt of gratitude and would like to express my feelings of appreciation
and thanks for their contribution. Among these, my wife Milka and my
children Yifat, Dorit, Limor and Avishai occupy the most prominent
place. They gave me all their love and support, and accepted with
patience and understanding the harsh reality that kept me busy and
usually away from home. They encouraged me to write this book and
helped me to edit the material.
Throughout the entire text I tried not to offend anyone. For the most
part, I believe, I succeeded; although criticism could not always be
avoided. If, in spite of my efforts, some individuals will take
offense, I ask for their understanding and forgiveness.
* * *
I do not remember whether I ever consciously “decided” to
become a doctor. This decision must have been inborn, although there
were at least two factors that helped strengthen it. One was my mother.
She was a strong-willed woman, with a legendary power of persistence.
It was clear to her, even before we were born, that both her sons (my
younger brother and I) must and will be physicians. Any other turn of
events was out of question. Any thought that we may, perhaps, choose
some other profession or occupation, simply did not cross her mind.
In pre-war Poland it was difficult for Jews to be admitted to
universities, particularly to medicine. Many were rejected because of
“numerus clausus” - limitation on the number of Jews that
were permitted to study at universities. Friends asked my mother:
“What if they will not be permitted to study in Poland?”.
To this my mother had a ready answer: “Then I will send them to
England or to Switzerland. Here or there, they will
medicine”. Such were her dreams. But life refused to cooperate.
Instead of studies in Switzerland, came World War II and the Holocaust (Fig. 1
Fig. 1. It was clear to my mother that her sons will be physicians.
The second factor was my uncle Joseph (Józek), my mother’s
younger brother. He was not accepted for studies in Poland and studied
medicine in Italy. Józek was a charming person, friendly and
full of joy. He played the guitar and the violin, painted (some of his
paintings decorated our walls), sang beautiful Italian songs, and in a
most entertaining way, explained secrets of the human anatomy or of the
Italian language. Everybody loved him. I was attracted by his company
and, as a matter of fact, saw in him a prime example of an ideal human
being. Whenever he came to Poland for vacation, I had a real holiday.
I believe that somewhere in the depth of my subconscious, this
self-identification with Józek, my love and admiration for him
were of crucial influence in my decision to become a doctor.
During the war and the German occupation, in his assumed new identity
as a Polish-Christian, Józek became a member of the Polish
underground movement Armia Krajowa. He participated in the Warsaw
Uprising and, regrettably, was killed in September 1944. He was awarded
the Polish Cross of Valor (Krzyż Walecznych) posthumously. To him I
dedicate this book (Fig. 2
During my studies in high school, my mind was already made-up. I wanted
to study medicine. Nothing else would do. For the time being, the
general term “medicine” sufficed, without further analysis.
However, at that time I read several books about famous physicians and
their discoveries. A particularly fascinating one was Paul de
Kruif’s “The Microbe Hunters”. Dramatic descriptions
of tropical diseases and the excitement surrounding the discovery of
microbes and parasites, all these brought me dreams about a career of
science and exploration. Why shouldn’t I become part of the
wonderful worlds of discovery? Why couldn’t I be one of those who
uncover these worlds and thus save thousands of lives? Later, during
bacteriology studies at the University, I saw this exciting field in an
entirely different perspective. Bacteriology appeared to me a boring
routine of inoculating colonies of microorganisms on agar plates and
growing cultures; plenty of dull routine and very little drama. I
enjoyed studying anatomy, histology and pathology and at some time even
considered making them my career. But bacteriology and parasitology, as
seen closely, did not attract me. I studied enough to pass the
examinations, but a career of preparing culture media for
microorganisms had no appeal to me.
Fig. 2. My uncle Józek (Dr. Józef Klinger) and his Cross of valor.
A dramatic change took place at the outset of my clinical studies.
Contact with patients, listening to their histories and examining them,
and finally, clinical analysis and treatment spoke directly to my soul.
All remnants of my dreams about research and discoveries vanished
without a trace. It is impossible not to relate this change to my
teacher, Professor Moshe Rachmilevitz, chief of the Department of
Medicine in Hadassah. He engraved his unmistakable mark on
students’ minds: the understanding that there is need for clear
thought and simple logic (“clinical logic” - his favorite
expression). In particular, he taught his pupils how to distinguish
between the clinically important and the insignificant. “Retain
the important and dispose of the rubbish”. Moshe Rachmilevitz
taught me to love clinical medicine. During my studies under him, there
was almost no doubt in my mind that in the future I will be an
Surgery was different. I was not nearly as attracted to it as to
internal medicine. As a surgeon, it is now embarrassing for me to
confess, but after the period spent in the Department of Medicine, my
rotation through Surgery was rather dull. This was not due to the
nature of surgery itself, but rather because of the way we were taught.
On Medicine, every student was in charge of a number of patients, had
to participate in their diagnostic workup, try to diagnose the case and
suggest treatment. On Surgery, the students were supposed to admit
patients, obtain their clinical history, do complete physical
examination, and then present them at the bedside rounds. During
presentation we were asked questions supposed to arouse interest and to
help in our studies. But in contrast to Medicine, the clinical workup
was limited, and entirely in the hands of physicians. Students could
ask questions and received instructions. But the feeling of being part
of the team was missing. Our role was passive. My function as a student
in the Department of Surgery did not stimulate a desire to become a
This changed completely upon my return to the Department of Surgery two
years later, as an intern. All patients on the service were now under
my care, and I had to suggest their diagnostic workup and treatment.
Participation of interns in operations was very limited, and usually
not beyond holding retractors, sometimes for long hours. However, if I
prepared myself beforehand by reading relevant material, I understood
what was going on and the procedure itself was interesting.
Moreover, in Surgery I could immediately see the results of treatment,
and they were much more definitive. On the medical service a patient
discharged after treatment for a congestive heart failure can return
two weeks later with the same problem. Feeling of disappointment is
then unavoidable. But a patient, who undergoes resection of a
gallbladder full of gallstones, does not return with the same stones
and the same pain. Surgery is much more dramatic and decisive, features
that befitted my taste and temperament. My rotation as intern in the
Department of Surgery was therefore crucial in choosing the field of
medicine appropriate for me.