You and John Keats can now both be called physician/writers. Unlike you, Keats never performed quadruple bypass on a former president. But like him, you found, later in your career, the power of words to elevate the human spirit. They were extraordinary words for an extraordinary time. COVID-19 had thrust our world into anxiety and despair, especially among medical professionals, who felt overwhelmed by the mounting death and too often powerless to respond. As chair of the department of surgery at one of the world’s premier health centers, you began to write daily briefings, that not only reported with clarity the cascading challenges, but helped your colleagues to see the nobility of their efforts and gave them reason to hope. In doing that for them, you did it for us all, as readers felt moved to share these letters widely, until in time people around the world couldn’t wait for your next dose of uplift. One of the many people you inspired called them “the Winston Churchill speeches of this war.” As you have pointed out in one of them, Dante, in The Divine Comedy, emerged from the underworld just before dawn, as we hope that our world is now doing from the darkness of COVID. But, however far in the future people look back to learn the best of our generation’s response to this crisis they will find themselves savoring your eloquence, because “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
In recognition of your distinguished achievement in humanistic healthcare, Williams College is proud to honor you with its Bicentennial Medal.