A 2009 Toast Honoring Dr. Chatterjee's Retirement from UCSF
Ivy asked me to give a BRIEF toast in honor of Dr. Chatterjee on behalf of the fellows-faculty or I guess those of us who have been fortunate enough to be his colleague as both a fellow and faculty member. I am sincerely humbled and honored, and I am frankly daunted. Asking someone to give a brief toast on Dr. Chatterjee is somewhat like asking someone to briefly teach molecular biology to fifth graders. Thanks Ivy!
In all seriousness, I will try to be brief, but brevity is not my strong suit. I want to start by relating a story I have told many of you about a meeting I had with my residency director – a man named David Hellman back in the spring of 1998 before I came to San Francisco. Dave met with each of us as we were leaving and he was a man of few words himself. He had also spent a great deal of time here at UCSF as a fellow and assistant professor before coming back to Hopkins. So I asked him, “Dr. Hellman, tell me what I should expect at UCSF?”
He has a very deliberate manner of speaking and as usual, he paused for what felt like 6 minutes all the while thinking. And he looked at me directly and said, “Well Ethan, at Hopkins, Medicine is a religion. At UCSF, there are many Gods, but there is no religion.”
Well I did not really understand what he meant, but I sure remembered it. And when I got here later that summer, I made it my mission to figure it out. Who were these gods and what is all this religion talk? As most of you know, I went straight to the lab and had little clinical contact aside from a few conferences and friends of mine who were clinical fellows. But some things were obvious. One was that these there were no temples. None of these gods had buildings or departments or firms named after them. But pretty soon, things became clear. Over and over again I kept hearing about this Chatterjee character. But I never saw him and I never heard him. At Hopkins, the Gods were always heard and in addition to the buildings, they usually had caravans of people following them around. So if Dr. Chatterjee was a God, where was all that? On the outside, he seemed like a simple, nice, even humble man. Could he really be a God?
Over the next three years, the legend grew. Don’t get me wrong, there were (and still are) many clinical masters around here, but when people spoke about Dr. Chatterjee, the tone was always different. Of course, being the skeptical even cynical contrarian, I simply could not believe that he was the God that everyone said he was. He was just too nice. Sure, I bet he could tell you a patient’s RV systolic pressure from a different floor, but he had to have some personality flaw. I grew up in an academic cardiology division, and I learned quickly that everyone has at least one major personality flaw and the Gods often had many.
So when I came back to start my clinical fellowship in the summer of 2001, I did so with great skepticism that Chatterjee was a God. Pretty quickly, I learned how wrong I was. Sure he had the clinical skills that one cannot teach. And he was indeed a walking encyclopedia – and not just about cardiology. His diagnostic acumen was tremendous and he was a phenomenal teacher… ok ok but what about the personality flaw. A man as great as this – a God- he had to be impossible or mean to someone. And if so, it should probably be the fellows so I figured I was bound to see it sooner or later. My first rotation with him was in the CCU in the fall of 2001. And I was shocked to learn that he was even nicer than he had seemed. But beyond nice, he was completely considerate of my needs both in terms of learning and patient care. He did everything he did without fanfare and without bombast. He was humble but confident, but he above all he was nice. This was so disturbing to me in that it completely upset my entire world-view. It could not be right. One of the things my Dad taught me from an early age, was that if you wanted to know the true nature of a physician, do not ask his or her patients, do not ask colleagues and do not ask trainees. They are all very easily swayed by trivial things. Dad said, if you really want to know, ask the nurses. So I took my dad’s advice and went to the most senior nurses in the CCU. Some of these people had been here since the 70’s and if there were warts, they would know. And each and every one of them said the exact same thing…. Dr. Chatterjee is my hero. I adore him.
And if you are around for about 30 seconds, you will hear the same thing. Dr. Chatterjee is indeed a God and he is a God unlike any other. For while he possesses all the requisite skills as a physician, teacher and researcher, he also possesses unique skills of humanity, compassion and kindness. He is truly one of a kind, and while he will never ever be replaced here or anywhere else, he will likewise not be forgotten. Dr. Chatterjee, we wish you the ultimate best in your move to Iowa. It is a move that few people understand because Gods just don’t up and move to Iowa. But you are no ordinary God…