Zen and the art of pediatric trauma: An inquiry in to healing
I read the book Zen and the Art for the first time over 30 years ago while a senior at Davidson College as part of a paper had to write for an English class I was taking my final semester. The course was on 19th century American literature and I came up with the wild idea (much like this talk) of comparing Herman Melville’s Moby Dick to Zen and the Art: two journeys into self. I passed the course and held those thoughts and ideas throughout my journey in life, and hopefully this Presidential Address will be a successful journey as well. Zen is a Japanese sect of Buddhism that aims at enlightenment by direct intuition through meditation. According to this belief, experiencing a moment of awakening in this life is of central importance. It involves dropping all illusion and seeing things without the distortion created by your own thoughts. Or my weak summation, the journey is more important than the destination. An inquiry is the seeking of truth, information, or knowledge, or an official investigation.
I have to credit two adult trauma surgeons for stimulating me to once again have some enlightenment through meditation or reflection as I look back on my journey as a pediatric trauma surgeon. It started with Dr. Cioffi’s presidential address at the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST) meeting in 2014 entitled “Responsibility” challenging us to take “responsibility to meet the challenges, create new knowledge, provide mentorship and service and ultimately leadership in health care with integrity to the best of our abilities.”1 The following year, Dr. Scalea was at the AAST trauma pulpit with his talk entitled “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” During that talk he describes a patient he had taken care of, who chose him, not only because he was a competent surgeon, but more importantly, because he also wanted a good doctor, one who would take care of both him and his family. He also encouraged us to reinstitute rigor back into our training, not in a harsh manner as perhaps it was when I trained, but to still demand responsibility for errors in judgment. And finally a plea to continue to commit to our core values in this time of change.2
My journey starts in March of 1963. First son to Bob and Gerre Letton. My father, raised in Paris, Kentucky just north of Lexington on our family farm had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, however, joined the US Air Force. He became a search and rescue helicopter pilot, flying the large Sikorsky helicopters known affectionately by those who were rescued as the Jolly Green Giants. So I was an Air Force brat, born in Selma, Alabama, moving from base to base my first years of life as he flew tours in Vietnam trying to save the lives of his downed brothers. We’ve seen all of the Hollywood movies about that era, but we lived it.