April 20th, 2015
Remembering Kanu Chatterjee
I have been meaning to write a note about Kanu Chatterjee, but have had trouble finding words that match the man. Dr. Chatterjee (I never felt worthy to call him Kanu – even in later years), a soft-spoken man of great patience, kindness, and wisdom, influenced so many through the wonder of his bedside manner, the brilliance of his mind, and the remarkable incisiveness of his exquisite diagnostic skills. From very modest beginnings – he finished medical school in Calcutta while living in a refugee camp – he rose to become of our nation’s national treasures in medicine.
Rounds with him were a remarkable experience. Every day was a tour de force performance. I would have bought tickets. I would have paid for the experience. I always wanted more. In fact, I chose to do my Chief Residency year at Moffitt Hospital in San Francisco based on the agreement that I could round every day in the CCU with Dr. Chatterjee. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Dr. Chatterjee was a master instructor. He would teach at the bedside, in the hall, at the blackboard. We copied the way he approached patients, the way he patiently elicited a history – even the way he wrote. His characteristic drawings of the precordial impulse were artifacts to study and reproduce. When he heard a Dock’s murmur we all strained to listen – and when we failed to hear it, he helped us try again.
He had a wry smile and nothing perturbed him. A call in the middle of the night was always met with a welcoming tone and a reassuring comment. If he came into the hospital at night (he was CCU attending every week of the year except for the rare occasions that he was out of town – and even then he called in every night), he was always in good cheer.
Despite a towering intellect, he had a humility that provided a safe space for questions. He was the ultimate teacher and provided the inspiration for so many to enter cardiology and seek to be like him – which was a destination beyond our abilities, but a very worthwhile goal. When you cared for patients with him you felt you were on holy ground. By his actions every day he honored the profession, respected his patients, and taught us to be doctors. Ask Topol. Or Califf. Or Rumsfeld. Or Masoudi. Or Weiss. Or Pina. Or DeMarco. Or the many, many others whose lives were changed profoundly because they were taught by the Master. We all owe him a debt.
His passing saddens all of us who knew him. I still don’t really have the words to capture his presence and influence. Maybe it is not for words. For those of us who were fortunate to be under his wing, the best we can do is continue our quest to be as good as he was – to care for patients like he did – and to inspire those around us like he did.