Completion of my internship meant the end of 9 years of deferral from the military draft as a student. At 27 years of age, I faced the prospect of remaining draft eligible until I reached 36. Viet Nam was really heating up. It was not a question of “if,” but “how soon?” During medical school I pondered two rather disparate choices of specialty. Pathology, especially microscopic anatomy and cytology, always appealed to me. Yet I found deep satisfaction in seeing live patients. My rotation on the Obstetrics service at Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City (pictured, now an historic landmark) was extremely busy and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
During medical school I had considered enlisting in the US Navy, with the objective of seeking a straight internship and residency in pathology, but it seemed a long shot. Instead I selected a rotating internship near home, at a community hospital affiliated with my University. During my first three years in medical school I had worked there nights as a laboratory technician on call, and had gotten to know and respect many of the staff physicians. Dr. John Work, Chief of Pathology, and Dr. Paul Fagan, Chief of Family Practice were two of my role models.
Choosing a general internship gave me a chance to experience a broad range of clinical services. It also cemented my desire to continue seeing live patients. When Dr. Fagan invited me to enter into a partnership with him upon completion of my internship, I jumped at the chance. It spared me the risk of renting and equipping an office, and if /when I got drafted, or entered a residency program, I could just depart without a penalty. This seemed to be an ideal arrangement, given the uncertainty of the times.
My private practice began the very first day after I completed internship. It felt almost the same as the day before, except that I showed up at the hospital in a suit and tie, insteady of my grungy intern whites, to meet Dr. Paul Fagan in the medical staff lounge. I also donned my crisp new lab coat embroidered with with my name and “Staff Physician,” in blue rather than the old red thread.
We began that morning by making rounds on his patients, a few of whom I already knew by virtue of my internship assignment. One was Mary, a new obstetric admission, one of Paul’s established patients who planned to have her baby under hypnosis. I knew that Paul practiced hypnosis, but I had never seen him utilize his skills in practice. He demonstrated as I stood at Mary’s bedside. She was multiparous (having delivered three children previously, all under hypnosis) and in early labor. Her cervix had only started dilating and her pains were irregular. He simply touched her shoulder and said calmly, “Relax yourself, Mary.” She immediately went into a deep trance! It was impressive. When he said, “Alright Mary, you can wake up,” she opened her eyes as if nothing had happened.
Paul asked me to stick around the hospital for a while as he had to make a house call nearby. No problem, so I thought. His little Triumph sports car had barely left the parking lot when he was paged over the intercom: “DOCTOR FAGAN, LABOR ROOM, STAT!” I rushed up to find that Mary had suddenly gone into very heavy labor, and was already on the verge of delivery. She was extremely anxious, crying and asking for Dr. Fagan. I walked in and told her that Dr. Fagan would be back shortly, and then placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “Relax yourself, Mary.” It worked like a charm, and Mary immediately quieted down as I quickly scrubbed. Within minutes she started crowning and I delivered her baby, all along speaking words of encouragement to her as calmly as I could.
The outcome convinced me that I wanted to learn hypnosis.