Medical Class Reunion 2011

July 7, 2011
Shirley M. Mueller, M.D.

A class reunion reveals faulty memories, missing classmates and a great deal of changes; but it was still a visit to a time in the past.

Though I am a physician, I am a woman too. I wanted to look my best when I went to my June 1971 University of Iowa medical class reunion. To achieve this purpose, I had my hair highlighted to make me look younger. Next on the agenda was a facial designed to plum up my skin and erase lines. Lastly, I carefully chose my outfit. It was one of my best.

I was ready to see my doctor classmates and be seen by them. However, the result of my efforts was not what I expected. The first person I spoke with didn’t recognize me.

“John, do you remember me?”

“No, were you in my class?”

“Yes”

He looked at me in disbelief, “Show me your name on the list of reunion attendees,” he said. At this point, it was clear to me; I would have nowhere to go but up.

But, this was not to be. In an effort to recoup, I spoke to a classmate I thought I recognized and addressed him by name. He didn’t respond right away, but when he did he told me he wasn’t who I thought he was. It seems that John was not the only one with a faulty recollection.

There were more than missing memories at our reunion. There were false memories too, fabrications or distorted recollections of events that did not happen. As a neurologist, this is something that interests me. I heard at least one person say that he thought our class was 160 in number rather than 125. I recalled that as well. We were both wrong. Another told my husband and me that a class member died from AIDS. Though possible, it seemed unlikely. My husband looked up the obituary and the classmate had not only been a well-known football player, but also had a wife and family. After 40 years, it seems a lot is either forgotten or made up to fit into our own specific memory framework.

There were no other women class members at our reunion. This was, in part, because when I graduated from medical school, females were rare in the field. In my class, I was one of seven women among 125 students. That made us 5.6% of the class. There wasn’t much diversity either. We were an Anglo Saxon bunch, though I do remember one Hispanic male.

By the reunion, 18 of our classmates had already died (14.4%). One overdosed on drugs just two years after we graduated. He was liked by our class and we considered this a tragedy. Five passed away in the 1990s. The remaining 12 died in the 2000s. One of these was a female classmate that I hardly knew. We were all so absorbed with medical school and learning that there was little time to get acquainted with one another. In retrospect, this seems sad.

When my husband and I were driving home, he asked me what surprised me most about the reunion. This was easy. We all looked different, older, but still so much better than I would have guessed. By and large (no pun intended), we were not overweight, we were dressed appropriately and my classmates’ wives were lovely and a credit to their husbands. So, my class did well, at least in these external aspects. This made me proud.

But the piece de resistance, I suppose, was what one of my classmates put forth in the “Memory Book” — a binder of biographical data to which some of the class contributed. It was gathered together by the University of Iowa Development Office. Jerry Stafford said, “I loved medical school.” That would be ditto for me. Going to the reunion was part of that emotion and admiration for a time past that can never be fully regained. Author Thomas Wolfe may have been right when he said, “You can’t go home again.” But, each of us who attended our medical class reunion tried.