Spectre of Noah
"Tell me a story!"
Jesse Roth, MD
New Hyde Park, NY
Medical students and residents have taught me that to get a point across, bring a story. The story I delivered to open my latest presentation derived from a recent evening with a college classmate. Now a medical school professor and associate dean, he recalled many decades ago the peak moment, the pinnacle, the zenith of my liberal arts career. Mark Van Doren, poet, scholar of literature, and favorite teacher at Columbia, chose my essay, one of a few among several hundred, to read aloud to the class.
The essay, as my classmate reminded me, focused on Noah and the flood as they relate to the symbolism of water in the Bible. Water is a blessing that brings life and lack of water delivers desert and death. The great flood that destroyed Noah’s world had a bitter irony. The agent of death was water, the great life-giver itself.
While preparing my grand rounds talk on the obesity pandemic, the theme of that long-ago essay came back. Another precious life-giver—food—is being delivered in excess, becoming the agent of sickness and death for half the population of the world. We are facing a global calamity of biblical dimensions, a Noah-like catastrophe. In the Bible, with the rainbow as witness, Noah was promised that the great flood would never be repeated, but variant scenarios were never excluded.