History is important

Elizabeth Hawley (1923-2018) with legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner (photo from Americanalpineclub.org, downloaded 2/15/18)

Elizabeth Hawley died in Kathmandu on January 20, 2018. She was 94 years old. This American journalist was known as “a one-woman climbing institution.” She first went to Nepal as a writer representing Reuters back in 1960, and stayed in Nepal ever since. Prior to Nepal, she had used her life savings to pay for a two-year trip around the world, which included visits to India, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Strangely, Ms Hurley was never a mountaineer, but began reporting on alpine activity as part of her job as a Reuters journalist. Beginning in 1963, she made it a point to meet virtually every expedition to the Nepal Himalaya both before and after their ascents. According to one report, she conducted more than 7000 expedition interviews. Mountaineers of all sorts, from the most famous to those less known sat in her Kathmandu apartment and subjected themselves to her fierce interrogations. She knew every detail about Himalayan peaks, and could easily tell if a climber was exaggerating or stretching the truth about an exploit (which is actually quite rare in climbing circles). She could also answer questions about the mountains: She served as a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge, so much so, that she received numerous honors from both Nepal and abroad, and, much to her surprise, even had a 6,182-meter Himalayan peak named after her by the Nepalese government.

The database of her interviews and other chronicles is now housed by the American Alpine Club, which has already devoted more than 10,000 hours building, maintaining, and continuing to grow these important pieces of history that document not only the feats and tribulations of hundreds of Himalayan climbers, but also serve as an reference for mountaineering historians everywhere.

As a climber, reading about Elizabeth Hawley reminded me of the importance of this history, but also of the importance of chronicles for any group of professionals. Mountaineers and rock climbers are a pretty tight group, always striving for self-improvement, discovering ways to train more efficiently, and anxious to undertake new challenges. Some of these traits are common to other hobbyists and professionals as well, including doctors and health care professionals.

It is a fact, however, that when it comes to bronchoscopists and Interventional Pulmonologists, there is no complete, written history of our specialty. There is no chronicle of our professional society, nor are there biographies of key players. A few years ago, I asked a couple of older and distinguished bronchoscopists to begin writing a history of the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology, and to help me establish a few simple biographical sketches of key figures (I suppose this comes from my own interest and experience teaching and writing about medical history). Sadly, there was little interest. While a lecture was given at an international meeting on the subject, no formal text was prepared or published that documents the people, events, and discoveries that mark our specialty.

Why is that? Will anyone ever establish a chronicle of our international society? A society that now has more than 7000 members? Will recognition ever come to those to whom recognition is due, and who were instrumental in moving our specialty forward, whether it be in scientific discovery, technical prowess, technological innovation, education and training, or dissemination of clinical practices?

Younger doctors are usually inspired by their seniors, and seniors must learn to put their egos aside so that respect and recognition can be upheld by colleagues regardless of personal disputes or disagreement. Learning about the past is a wonderful and often exhilarating way to understand the present and prepare for our future. That is what a formal, written history of our specialty would provide. Therefore, I think building a chronicle of our history is worth pursuing. If anyone is seriously interested in such a project, please contact me at Bronchoscopy.org, or write Michael at WABIP.com.