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Chester Bidwell McVay, MD: The Practicing Anatomist

Chester Bidwell McVay, MD: The Practicing Anatomist AS THE frontispiece to Chester B. McVay's signature text, Surgical Anatomy, he humbly quotes the 12th-century chancellor, Bernard of Chartes, as opining, We are like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.1 That humility and respect for those preceding him would set the tone for his future career and the careers of all who followed him. Chester Bidwell McVay began his surgical career at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill, where he earned his PhD in anatomy under legendary teacher and anatomist Barry Anson, PhD. From there, he went to Ann Arbor, Mich, for the honing of that knowledge into surgical skill. In those days, the University of Michigan was one of the crown jewels of American surgery. It was, after all, Fredrick A. Coller country, and the school was to be pronounced as though capitalized and surrounded by pauses. One can therefore imagine the reluctant trepidation of the poor junior faculty member who, in l938, was scheduled to walk through a routine Bessini herniorrhaphy with McVay, a new green intern who had unfortunately just first-authored the definitive work on the subject, somewhat brashly entitled A Fundamental Error in the Bassini Operation for Direct Inguinal Hernia. Dr McVay valued and honored those days and was never more reverent than when referring to "the old man" (Dr Coller) or one of Dr Coller's verbal lessons or admonitions. He subsequently brought those same lessons and sense of confident correctness to his own training program. Junior residents were often assigned to "know the anatomy" but advised not to bother reading about surgical technique or practice: "I'll show you that and you'll learn it right." Dr McVay liked to refer to himself as a practicing anatomist, not out of contempt for his subsequent surgical career but with a respectful sense of how it should be practiced. And a masterful anatomist he was: whether crafting a transthoracic scheme for an adrenalectomy, gleefully attacking a 5-time recurrent hernia preperitoneally to demonstrate that the "real anatomy" had never been previously touched, or advising caution in approaching a seemingly featureless phlegmon because an aberrant takeoff of the third branch of some unnamed vessel might be "right . . . here!"1 Each of us fortunate enough to have trained under Dr McVay is occasionally asked to speculate what the master might have thought of the widespread use of mesh in reconstructive repairs. The quick answer is that he advocated it, encouraging its use for tissue extension as he had embraced the use of braided nylon kite string (hand-cut to length, wrapped, and sterilized by the beleaguered operating room nurses) years earlier because of its strength as a suture material. The caveat to this acceptance would, of course, be that the mesh be incorporated into an otherwise anatomically accurate procedure. He certainly would be as disdainful of the practice of stuffing a polypropylene rag in the region of a bulge as we all should be. We learn many lessons from our mentors, perhaps none more enlightening than those related to their own motivations and passions. In his much-decorated 40-year surgical career, Chester Bidwell McVay successfully transformed himself from a respectful dwarf into one of the very giants he so admired, thereby making room up there for the rest of us—and the view is fine! References 1. McVay CB Surgical Anatomy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa WB Saunders Co1984; http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archives of Surgery American Medical Association

Chester Bidwell McVay, MD: The Practicing Anatomist

Archives of Surgery , Volume 137 (2) – Feb 1, 2002

Chester Bidwell McVay, MD: The Practicing Anatomist

Abstract

AS THE frontispiece to Chester B. McVay's signature text, Surgical Anatomy, he humbly quotes the 12th-century chancellor, Bernard of Chartes, as opining, We are like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.1 That humility and respect for those preceding him would set the tone for his future career and the careers of all who...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2002 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
0004-0010
eISSN
1538-3644
DOI
10.1001/archsurg.137.2.226
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

AS THE frontispiece to Chester B. McVay's signature text, Surgical Anatomy, he humbly quotes the 12th-century chancellor, Bernard of Chartes, as opining, We are like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.1 That humility and respect for those preceding him would set the tone for his future career and the careers of all who followed him. Chester Bidwell McVay began his surgical career at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill, where he earned his PhD in anatomy under legendary teacher and anatomist Barry Anson, PhD. From there, he went to Ann Arbor, Mich, for the honing of that knowledge into surgical skill. In those days, the University of Michigan was one of the crown jewels of American surgery. It was, after all, Fredrick A. Coller country, and the school was to be pronounced as though capitalized and surrounded by pauses. One can therefore imagine the reluctant trepidation of the poor junior faculty member who, in l938, was scheduled to walk through a routine Bessini herniorrhaphy with McVay, a new green intern who had unfortunately just first-authored the definitive work on the subject, somewhat brashly entitled A Fundamental Error in the Bassini Operation for Direct Inguinal Hernia. Dr McVay valued and honored those days and was never more reverent than when referring to "the old man" (Dr Coller) or one of Dr Coller's verbal lessons or admonitions. He subsequently brought those same lessons and sense of confident correctness to his own training program. Junior residents were often assigned to "know the anatomy" but advised not to bother reading about surgical technique or practice: "I'll show you that and you'll learn it right." Dr McVay liked to refer to himself as a practicing anatomist, not out of contempt for his subsequent surgical career but with a respectful sense of how it should be practiced. And a masterful anatomist he was: whether crafting a transthoracic scheme for an adrenalectomy, gleefully attacking a 5-time recurrent hernia preperitoneally to demonstrate that the "real anatomy" had never been previously touched, or advising caution in approaching a seemingly featureless phlegmon because an aberrant takeoff of the third branch of some unnamed vessel might be "right . . . here!"1 Each of us fortunate enough to have trained under Dr McVay is occasionally asked to speculate what the master might have thought of the widespread use of mesh in reconstructive repairs. The quick answer is that he advocated it, encouraging its use for tissue extension as he had embraced the use of braided nylon kite string (hand-cut to length, wrapped, and sterilized by the beleaguered operating room nurses) years earlier because of its strength as a suture material. The caveat to this acceptance would, of course, be that the mesh be incorporated into an otherwise anatomically accurate procedure. He certainly would be as disdainful of the practice of stuffing a polypropylene rag in the region of a bulge as we all should be. We learn many lessons from our mentors, perhaps none more enlightening than those related to their own motivations and passions. In his much-decorated 40-year surgical career, Chester Bidwell McVay successfully transformed himself from a respectful dwarf into one of the very giants he so admired, thereby making room up there for the rest of us—and the view is fine! References 1. McVay CB Surgical Anatomy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa WB Saunders Co1984;

Journal

Archives of SurgeryAmerican Medical Association

Published: Feb 1, 2002

References