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Dr. Irvine Page No. 05 [February 1, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0575
Run Time
0h 19m 11s
Date Produced
February 1 1987
A: People in those days controlled their own destiny a lot more. It was up to you. Nobody was saying you can't do it, but nobody was saying you can either. It was just you did it or you didn't do it. If you didn't want to do it, all right, you didn't want to do it. The world wasn't going to stop.
     I think I took advantage of every opportunity that I could. I was a bit of a maverick, myself. That's why I think I understood Tom better. The things that I objected to, I suspect, were really things that were of principle that I would try to change. I would try to create something new. I don't know about Ruth's motivations, but the things that I have gotten into have been lucky choices in a way; like arteriosclerosis, hypertension, brain chemistry, and things like that; things that were going against the tide at the time, and then subsequently turned around and became the "in" thing to do. I have watched this time after time.
Q: Dr. Page, when you were head of the American Heart Association and the watchword was, that if you had a heart attack or you suspect heart trouble or you want to avoid it, be careful. You know, it was practically tiptoe your way through life. You, in your inaugural address stood everybody on their ear by saying that was nonsense; it was destroying the quality of life and that people should be more sensible about it. How did you have the courage to say that? They had just made you head of the American Heart Association.
A: I was used to saying things as I saw them, and I felt that at the time -- this was around 1950 -- that we were going a little too fast and a little too far. Medicine was becoming a proscribing profession rather and prescribing profession. But at the time, there was very little interest in the environment. Exercise and all of this was forbidden. You see, when people had a heart attack in those days, they put you right to bed, and you didn't move. You couldn't even feed yourself. It seemed to me that this was not a good idea. I couldn't see any reason, chemically or physiologically, why you should subject people to a totally abnormal environment, which was a hospital, that won't even let you feed yourself. I wasn't sure the heart was really that much damaged. On really technical grounds, I decided that was not the thing to do. The thing to do was exercise it to its capacity, but not more than its capacity.
Q: And you weren't afraid to say that?
A: No, I wasn't afraid to say it. The only real time I got into trouble was when I gave a speech when I was president of the AAAS. I gave a speech, and I don't really know why I did it; it was on intuition in medicine. They didn't like that at all.
     I had long since forgotten it. I guess it was forty years ago. I got a letter from a publisher that knew me at Harcourt Brace, and somebody had written in and said that a fellow by the name of Page had given a speech about intuition in medicine and he wanted a copy of it. I remember that I did such a speech, but hadn't the vaguest idea where it was published.
     But, I have always believed -- and this has been, I think, greatly augmented by what my wife has always believed -- that intuition is as important, or perhaps more important, than the scientific point of view. Well, I must say that, very reluctantly over a period of years, I have come to agree with her. I guess we're closer in a sense. I don't criticize intuition because as I looked at it, I realized that what we used to call bedside manner was intuition; that a sympathetic approach and understanding of a patient's problems was just as important as being able to tell whether there was too much lactic acid in the blood.
     So the two are melded in my mind now. I don't have any great problem. It's like religion. I can't accept or sign a petition or sign a document saying that I believe everything in the church, because I don't. I don't belong to church even though I go -- that's the difference. My wife belongs, but I don't, but I go. See, I believe in God, but I am not willing to say that I know what He looks like, or if He's going to deal with me fairly, or whether I'm going to sit next to Him. I don't know.
Q: But you have the intuition that He's there?
A: I have intuition that He's there. That's the way I look on life.
Q: You were talking about Tom Fisher and the kind of man he was. I suspect it was partly your intuition that enabled you to get along with him so well. You understood him, and you were talking about the kinds of things, the way he used to "twit" people and said, for example . . . .
A: Well, I think an example would be for instance, today, he would say, "I see you still believe in Reagan, don't you?" I'd say, "Yes, I do." "Well, I don't." I'd say, "Why not?" Well, then we'd start. He would cite all kinds of things, and he would always say, "The fact of it is . . . ." And I'd say, "Well, now wait a minute, Tom. You don't know what the fact of it is. If you know what the fact of it is, say the fact is, but don't use it otherwise." That would slow him down. That was one of those things like saying, "Errrr." We got along very well. I can see why he used to drive juries completely "wacko" because he would tie them up in knots with his confrontational statements. Tom knew a lot, and I had a lot of respect for him, but it was hard sometimes to separate fact from fantasy with him. In science, that's what your business is. It's very hard for people to understand that a scientist isn't just raising trouble about minor things. He has to be very exact; he had to be careful about what he says, having it really factual. If it isn't, you get the kind of things that are going on today, where somebody says, "What you're talking about is fraud." It's a thing that I don't like at all and don't think it's necessary. We're losing our professional morals and ethics because we're starting to shout at each other and starting to go to court with doctors saying, "You can't play God," and all that. I've played God all of my life, and I don't even know what God wants.
Q: That's true, I'm sure. You were saying before about that kind of pushing that Tom did. Do you think that he pushed Ruth around? Do you think he dominated Ruth?
A: No, not at all. If Ruth doesn't want to do something or accept something, any suggestion just flows over her as if it didn't exist. It never bothered her at all.
Q: So Tom never dominated her?
A: No.l think he would have hated to admit it, but Tom did what she wanted to do. But she did it so quietly that he didn't realize that it was not his idea. I've seen that happen many times with Ruth. She'd say, "Well, I don't want to do it right now, Tom. We'll do it later, maybe." That was the end of it. Tom didn't fight it at all. I used to say, "Well, why should you do it that way?" [Tom would say,] "Well, because Ruth wants to do it that way." That settled the argument. So, I think she quietly dominated him. Not the reverse.
Q: Was your mother like that?
A: Mother was more like Ruth, I think, although Mother was a very dynamic person, much more dynamic than Ruth was.
Q: More dynamic?
A: Oh, yes, much more. She was very strong and very active and into everything. She never tired, and right to the end of her life, she was the same way. She was always busily doing something, involving herself. The difficulty that Mother had was that she had married early. She was in the Leipzig Music School and had married a doctor who was trying to make his way in Indiana. I think that her career was smothered by my father. As I told you, my father was not a person that you argued with. We just did things the way he wanted to do them. He was never obtrusive about it, but you knew who was running the show. And Mother knew it, too. She kept up her own activities; well, to pick up and go to South America for two years with Ruth, shows you just the kind of person she was.
Q: Do you think that she was in some ways sort of living through Ruth, that Ruth was doing the kinds of things . . . ?
A: No, I don't think so. She was very fond of Ruth, and I can tell from letters that she wrote that she was very fond of Ruth. They got along very well together. I never heard them row about anything. Mother was always willing to subjugate her own views to Ruth's, if that seemed to be necessary for her to do. I know she didn't want to go around the world with Ruth, but she did it. She and Father both did. They loved it. I think. I would have hated it. This is the sort of thing that I don't like to do, but she did.
Q: Was Ruth spoiled by your parents?
A: No, I don't think so. I didn't see any difference between the way I was treated and the way Ruth was treated or my brother. We were all treated the same. I don't think there was any concern about any of us particularly. I don't remember any problems that we had. They sent my brother to the Asheville School, and my father kept me under control by sending me to a public school. I think I got more out of public school than he did out of Asheville. He wasn't a student really.
Q: Speaking of the three of you, speaking of you and your sister, is there any trait that you wish that Ruth had?
A: No, I don't think so. I couldn't judge a thing like ballet. I don't have enough technical knowledge. I sometimes think that Ruth, as in my own case, was not quite a perfectionist enough. I think both of us were sometimes in a little bit of a hurry and assumed that what we did was all right, and we could go on from there. I think that was a weakness that I know I had.
     I was always interested in a wide variety of things. Put it this way: I couldn't go on with surgery because the last sewing up . . . I guess I got tired of it. I thought, "The heck with this. Do it this way and forget it." That isn't the way you do good surgery. You've got to be absolutely meticulous. I am not meticulous, and my sister's not meticulous either.
     This is unfair. I can only judge about what I have done, and whether that is a fair evaluation of the ballet, heaven only knows, because I don't know because I don't know what is demanded of the ballet. That's my feeling about it. I wish I had been a little more of a perfectionist but, on the other hand, I'm perfectly satisfied with what I did.
Q: I think you've done very well, Dr. Page. Is there anything else -- last question -- that I have not asked you that you would like to talk about?
A: Nothing in particular. I think this was a pretty fair evaluation of both Ruth's and my careers. I don't think so. I hate to repeat. I'm enough of a scientist to know that people get repetitive when they get older, and the reason for that is that they don't remember what they have talked about. The reason I quit giving public speeches is that sometimes in the middle of the speech I'd think, "Gee, you've been saying that for years. Do you have to say it again? Did I just say it?" This gives me a feeling of uncertainty, and I don't like it, because I can sometimes tell when I'm talking, my wife will look at me in a certain way which tells me, "Look, you just said that." So, I think that we've covered the both of us in pretty good fashion, and I'd rather leave it that way. So I won't repeat myself, and you won't have to look at me and say, "You just said that."
Q: Who of your parents do you, yourself, and Ruth get your senses of humor from?
A: My father. My father was a great punster and also loved jokes, but his jokes were a very erudite form. He was nothing like the stand-up artist. But he was very sensitive to fun, even though he was not a funny man at all. I think I see funny things all of the time, because I am always laughing within myself and have to learn not to laugh at my own jokes, which is very hard because I think they're awfully funny. So, that's my idea about humor.
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