Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New Yorker died in Boston

This is a complicated story about Harold Ross, a reporter, man of letters, and a member of the American Legion, who came under the aegis of Boston's renowned medical establishment; first to be healed and later to meet his demise. Sometimes, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Every city has its strengths and character. This brief history lesson isn't meant to imply that New York is good at enabling literature while Boston is good at killing people. It is interesting however, that in the year 2009, New York is still a cultural capitol while Boston is a medical capitol. Boston used to be a literary capitol, but that scene has had a very weak pulse in recent decades.

This story has nothing to do with Dorchester, Boston's best neighborhood, beyond the address of your author who is writing this disclaimer. I find it interesting nonetheless and I hope you do too, for whatever reason. In the interest of brevity, tantalizing details have been dropped without digression.

Harold Wallace Ross was a private in WWI from his enlistment until his discharge. He was a reporter and an editor at Stars and Stripes, which remains the way soldiers, sailors and airmen get their news in paper form. After the Treaty of Versailles, Mr. Ross settled in New York City where he tried to run a publication aimed at veterans, but he didn't really make a go at it. He channeled his energy and editing skills into a new endeavor, a little magazine he called The New Yorker. He met with somewhat more success.

Like many men in high-stress positions at the time, Harold Ross suffered from gastric ulcers. This is a malady that hardly occurs anymore (another fascinating story in itself) but at the time it was felt to be caused by stress and aggravated by diet. Seeking a cure, Mr. Ross came to Boston, to the Lahey Clinic that was located at 605 Commonwealth Avenue. He was the patient of Dr. Sara Lahey, a famed gastroenterologist and one of the first to specialize in the field. The French diet Dr. Lahey prescribed suited Mr. Ross and led to an improvement of his symptoms. Together they published a cookbook titled, Good Food for Bad Stomachs.

In 1951 Mr. Ross was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx. This was treated with radiation but not before the tumor had spread to one of his lungs. In December of that year, Mr. Ross left New York for one last time for Boston. The Lahey Clinic didn't have it's own operating rooms at the time. Surgeons utilized the facilities at New England Baptist Hospital, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and New England Deaconess Hospital. All three of these hospitals, as well as the Lahey Clinic, survive in one form or another to this day, New England Baptist seemingly the most unchanged.

It isn't readily apparent from the records in which operating suite Harold Ross underwent his exploratory pneumonoscopy. What is apparent is that on December 6, 1951, his heart failed on the operating table and he died in Boston.

The New Yorker magazine continues, of course. So does the Stars and Stripes, the Algonquin Hotel, of which Mr. Ross was a member of its famed Round Table, the American Legion and the Lahey Clinic, though that is no longer located within Boston's city limits.

Besides the obvious Wikipedia entries, this article from the BBC was interesting.

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