|Aron Wahrman, MD, MBA|
An Unusual Glimpse Of A Legend;
Sterling Bunnell, MD (1882-1957)
Every so often, the “joy of the hunt”, as we say in the collecting world, will come full circle, and you are happily connected with a “one off” item that was completely unexpected. Serendipity is always more satisfying (and often less expensive) then buying an object from a dealer or high end catalogue. Don’t get me wrong- everyone deserves to make a good living, and dealers and their catalogues are not only beautiful (and collectible) in and of themselves- and also very educational.
Not long ago I was perusing some favorite book sites. Certain books and ephemera, like autographs, can be particularly hard to find. For instance, I have every edition, starting with the first (1944), of Sterling Bunnell’s Surgery of the Hand, but have never come across his actual signature. Someone was selling a beautiful copy (with dust jacket) of a Spanish translation of the second English edition, published in Barcelona, 1956. The person selling the book insisted that it was Dr Bunnell’s own copy- when I inquired as to how they could confirm that - whether it was signed, stamped or at least carried his bookplate- they responded no, but, they’d acquired it amongst some interesting familial items—which they were also willing to sell, and I was more than willing to buy (thank you, Peg!)
I have included an image from the textbook’s chapter on nerves. Here he illustrates an ulnar nerve repair (which is still referred to as cubital, even that distal). If you look at figure G in the diagram, we learn a technical pearl-- Dr Bunnell used to pass his sutures through fat before his repairs- he thought this made the silk stitches less traumatic and inflammatory (perhaps he inadvertently and unknowingly transplanted some adipose stem cells to boot!)
Among these gems was a leatherette bound photo album of a hunting/fishing trip taken by Dr Bunnell with some cronies- including a professional baseball player, a vintner, and the president of the Bank of America. They took the title, The Hardy Mountaineers, aka the “Dudes”. The elegant small black and white photos were carefully mounted on pages whimsically illustrated by Dr Bunnell (“Bunny’), including a self-caricature of him buried in the snow, as well as a snapshot of him as “Trapper”. The trip was to Kings River Country, in the Sierra Nevadas, likely during the 1940’s.
Two photos from this archive, however, appeal to more of my poetic sense. One is a candid of the older Dr Bunnell, hands in pockets. The other is a formal portrait, likely from the time he graduated from Cal or its medical school in 1904 or 1908. Notice the hands on display- hands of a polymath that would go on to treat other hands, to found the American specialty of hand surgery, and to guide and inspire future generations of clinicians the world over.