Dr. Bennet Lorber ’64 mixes music, medicine, and poetry in afternoon lecture

Dr. Bennet Lorber ’64, Swarthmore trustee, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Temple University, and professor of medicine delivered a lecture entitled “Some Thoughts on a Life in Infectious Diseases, or what I’ve learned from Bugs” Tuesday afternoon.

Lorber began his lecture by playing a bit of folk music on his guitar and delivering a poem by Yeats. He informed his audience that both the guitar and Yeats were two things he learned from Swarthmore. He then introduced his lecture by showing slides of himself throughout his life (from infancy to today) and told the audience a little about his childhood. When describing his life after Swarthmore, he said he had first wanted to become a general internist. It was only because of a need to wait for a deferment from service in the army as a conscientious objector and later the illness of his oldest son that he ended up doing an infectious disease fellowship and becoming an infectious disease doctor.

Lorber then shifted the focus of his lecture from his life to the interesting aspects of infectious diseases. He discussed intriguing cases he and others in his field have encountered. One story was about an outbreak of Lyme disease in a retirement settlement with a golf course. Through the course of investigating the outbreak, doctors discovered that all the patients with Lyme disease were golfers. If the golfers with the disease were separated between those with scores above 100 and those below 100, there were about 5 times more patients with scores above 100, since they spent more time in the woods looking for their golf balls.

Lorber also discussed a little about how people’s changing lifestyles had an influence on the infectious diseases they could get. He discussed this in terms of “rattlesnakes, saunas, sushi and lawn darts”, each was a specific case of an infectious disease caused by something that had changed in the patient’s lifestyle.

Lorber also spent time discussing his own personal experiences with patients, describing poignant stories of an AIDS patient being cared for by estranged parents, and a grieving wife writing him a poem describing his importance to both her and her dying husband. He pointed out that as a doctor, he gets to see people at their extremes, in jubilation over the birth of a child, and in anguish over the death of a loved one.

Lorber also discussed some of his past experiences. He is a painter, recently putting on a show at the List Gallery, and also plays guitar, keeping his guitar in his office and bringing it to teaching conferences to play before the conference starts. He emphasized the importance of having a hobby as a doctor. Doing something that is important to you, makes you happy, and keeps you sane is just as important as what you do as a doctor, Lorber said. He ended his lecture by telling students, “To best take care of patients, you have to first take care of yourself.”

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