Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Matters of the Heart

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23


Its unassuming blue canvas cover with gold stamped lettering on the spine sits humbly on the bookshelf. Few would guess that its content began a revolution overturning conventional wisdom and launching its record-setting trajectory that continues today. But peering behind the curtain of time is a back story close to my heart.

It is early spring in Oxford in 1955 in the building that still bears his family name. Dr. Arthur C. Guyton stands in the locking knee brace he invented before his first year physiology students. W. B. Saunders had approached him about writing a book, and he needed someone to draw figures, as he called them, to illustrate his concepts. A classmate raised the arm of another student and urged, “Sonny, you can draw.”

“See me after class,” Dr. Guyton said.

These four words changed my father’s life. They began a journey with pen and ink and daily brushes with genius. 

Dr. Guyton’s offer provided an artist’s dream: a LeRoy lettering set, a Sears catalog for ordering supplies, an  actual office down the hall from his for working and studying, and—as though that were not gift enough—a paying job for four years. Such proximity to a man of Dr. Guyton’s intellect and generosity of spirit yielded incalculable life lessons.

That new blue book published in 1956 would be the Textbook of Medical Physiology, still the definitive text for medical education in the world.  

The first and second editions contain young Brantley Pace’s original hand-drawn figures and illustrations in pen and ink and employ the then-high tech zip-a-tone for others. Graphic design in the 1950s was a skilled hand and an elbow.

Dr. Guyton said in his original preface, “Many will look upon this one-man attempt to write a physiology text as extremely presumptuous.” Except that he was the one man who could do it. Who said, it’s not bragging if it’s true? 

Many have documented his storied tenure at the University of Mississippi Medical School and his unquestioned genius. UMC writers including Maurine Twiss, Barbara Austin and Janis Quinn have written of his legacy. Janis Quinn and Carroll Brinson, whose mother taught me piano in Monticello while I am walking memory lane, authored a favorite book Arthur C. Guyton which offers fascinating reading.

Guyton’s devotion to his wife and family is central to the person he was, and no mention of his gifted life can omit this aspect. We have family Christmas cards from the 1960s with black and white photos of the enlarging brood of Guytons still tucked into the old books with personal notes from Dr. Guyton to my dad. His beloved Ruthie, as he wrote her name in the dedication of Function of the Human Body, Modern Asia Edition, another book my father was blessed to illustrate, was an amazing woman in her own right. 

The University of Mississippi through Guyton began educating medical professionals around the world in the 1950s and 1960s. My brother was doing orthopedic surgery in Croatia two decades ago and fetched a copy of Guyton’s text from the bookshelf there. Few would expect such ripples from this small state.

Fifty-seven years after its first printing, this masterwork is in its 13th edition with Dr. John Hall as co-author. Such a publishing feat is unprecedented. 

My daughter had it on her textbook list this fall in a nurse practitioner program in Nashville and overheard someone question, “University of Mississippi?...” She could only smile.

When considering what we are to do in this life, I believe our calling is rooted in our giftedness. We often find our calling at the intersection of ability and opportunity. When our talents meet a profound need we have the chance to test drive that calling and see if it is affirmed.

Dr. Brantley Pace is still practicing medicine 58 years after that fortuitous raised hand initiated a journey with Dr. Guyton he cherishes more each year.  And he still pulls out his pen to draw a figure to illustrate a point or to offer a cartoon bunny rabbit for the children.

I am grateful for life’s unexpected blessings that flowed from one man's careful examination of the heart.