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A French ‘Indianist’ Doctor: A Tribute to a Die-hard Humanist
by T. Wignesan, Chercheur au C.N.R.S.
Professor Jean LAPRESLE, the last of the great French Neurologists and/or Neuro-Pathologists [Feb. 3, 1921 – Dec. 2, 2000]
An Indianist (‘Indophile’ is too meek a word for him) in his own right, he visited the Southern States, especially Tamil Nadu and Kerala, twice a year, for decades and came to love the people and place to such an extent that there was little worth knowing about the place and its history or culture that he couldn’t hold forth upon. He read the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Naipaul and Rushdie, and constantly plied every caller with searching questions on "Eternal India: The Mother of all wisdom" in his words.
A towering lifelong bachelor of distinguished bearing and manners and whose perhaps “only” non-professional diversion, one might rightly divine, was Indian !
The Solitary Oak on Mount Kremlin-Bicêtre
On Bicêtre Mount a stately oak did spread its unmeshed
boughs to swarms of sparrows beating retreat
To turtle-doves and flapping pigeon-mates a frolicsome
Where now on thunder-split crutches hop the mocking
Its black upturned tail uppity down high-domed arches’
Desolate within chilled-threaded casements of fading
Sleek crows guard the sentinel post where gentle souls
Once his benign fiery eye caught the tame light in lame
Novice and apprentis sorciers sought the shelter of his
eagle umbrella wing
The charge-nurse at his beck and call
Under the official seal of his high personal Chair
Now the lordly craftsman called to lay down his tools in
honorary quack contempt
By some aging loyal birds......................too meek to fly away
......to the welcoming soothing Kerala waters
lovingly lashing under swaying “sussurait”-ing palms
Too lame to avoid the headlong charge down teetering fate
Had him appear in white blouson for the nonce’s sake
No nurse to jump at the phone’s end
No student his ears peeled to every remark and question
No professorial stamp at his command
“You know he takes no new patients…”
The voice trailing.................................. hoarse and dead
Carting rough brown bulky dossiers in his failing arms
......A Visitor in his home
Nay..........A thief in his fiefdom
He stalks a room......any room for a moment’s reprieve
The hand now less firm............somewhat shaky
The date a tussle with memory
Then the long unnoticed wait at the central reception desk
To ask for his patient the next bi-annual or trimestrial appointment
like a Patient
A whole life ministering to personal needs
The life-long bachelor
“When you no more have the charge of the place…”
His eyes make as if to plead in lieu of an apology
Then abruptly the trimestrial rendez-vous stays open.....
No excuse no reason is proffered
Only by chance you surmise
.............................The frail fallen oak lies limp in some forsaken lot
Paris, August 1, 2004
(P.S. I used to accompany a patient to his consultation offices for some sixteen years, and many were the long and fruitful discussions that ensued during the visits.)
Born in Paris on February 3rd 1921, together with his twin brother Claude, both of them finished their last four years’ of schooling at the prestigious Lycée Louis Le Grand, France’s elite lycée. And both went on to qualify, like their younger brother Pierre, as doctors at the Sorbonne’s renowned medical school. Dr. Claude Lapresle, an eminent specialist himself, is at the moment serving as Professeur Honoraire à l'INSTITUT PASTEUR.
After graduating in 1946, he went on to obtain his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1950. His dissertation, La porphyrie aiguë intermittente. Etude anatomo-clinique was published in the same year by the Librarie Arnette, Paris. Even as a young internee, he was regularly contributing scholarly research papers in collaboration with other French medical greats, such as, Jean BERNARD and Raymond GARCIN.
By 1961, he became Professor (agrégé) of Neurology and Psychiatry and was made a full professor without a chair in 1969. In 1972, he was appointed Professeur Titulaire à Titre Personnel at the Faculty of Medicine of the South.
Among his distinguished achievements:
Médaille d’Honneur des Epidémies (1948);Médaille d’Argent of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris (1951);Prix Pierre Marie of the National Academy of Medicine (1954);Prix Robert Bing of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (1968)
General-Secretary of the VIth International Congress of Neuropathology, Paris (1970);Member (1970-74) and Vice-President (1974-78) of the Executive Committee of the International Society of Neuropathology
Visiting Fellow in Neurology, Columbia University, New York (1950-51)
Visiting Professor of Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine New York (1969);Visiting Professor at the Veterans General Hospital and the National Yang-Ming Medical College, Taipei (1982).He also undertook Technical Cooperation Missions to MALAYSIA (1971), TUNIS (1964, 1975, & 1976), and SINGAPORE (1976).
By 1984, he had already published, both under his own signature and those of his collaborators, some 196 research papers in scholarly journals, with a predilection for the Revue Neurologique. Cf. Notice sur les Titres et Travaux Scientifiques du Professeur Jean Lapresle. Paris : Masson, 1984, 16p.
. (c) T. Wignesan - Paris, August 1, 2004 (revised version)
pub. in Blind Man’s Lantern: Poems that lash out, mock and rip into the dark. Allahabad: Cyberwit.net, 2015, 864p.)
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